Seasonal variation in prey preference, diet partitioning and niche breadth in a rich large carnivore guild

Vissia, Sander; Bouman, Ariet; Virtuoso, Francisca A.S.; Langevelde, Frank van


Large carnivore community structure is affected by direct and indirect interactions between intra-guild members. Co-existence between different species within a carnivore guild may occur through diet, habitat or temporal partitioning. Since carnivore species are highly dependent on availability and accessibility of prey, diet partitioning is potentially one of the most important mechanisms in allowing carnivores to co-exist. Intra-guild interactions may vary over time as carnivore prey preference and diet overlap can change due to seasonal changes in resource availability. We conducted scat analysis to compare the seasonal changes in prey preference, diet partitioning and niche breadth of four large carnivore species, namely leopard Panthera pardus, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, brown hyena Parahyaena brunnea and wild dog Lycaon pictus in central Tuli, Botswana. Large carnivores in central Tuli display a high dietary overlap, with spotted hyena and brown hyena displaying almost complete dietary overlap and the other carnivore species displaying slightly lower but still significant dietary overlap. Dietary niche breadth for both hyena species was high possibly due to their flexible foraging strategies, including scavenging, while leopard and wild dog showed a relatively low niche breadth, suggesting a more specialised diet. High dietary overlap in central Tuli is possibly explained by the high abundance of prey species in the area thereby reducing competition pressure between carnivore species. Our research highlights the need to assess the influence of diet partitioning in structuring large carnivore communities across multiple study sites, by demonstrating that in prey rich environments, the need for diet partitioning by carnivores to avoid competition may be limited.