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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Leopard Panthera pardus density and survival in an ecosystem with depressed abundance of prey and dominant competitors

Vinks, Milan A.; Creel, Scott; Rosenblatt, Elias; Becker, Matthew S.; Schuette, Paul; Goodheart, Ben; Sanguinetti, Carolyn; Banda, Kambwiri; Chifunte, Clive; Simukonda, Chuma;

Abstract

The leopard Panthera pardus is in range-wide decline, and many populations are highly threatened. Prey depletion is a major cause of global carnivore declines, but the response of leopard survival and density to this threat is unclear: by reducing the density of a dominant competitor (the lion Panthera leo) prey depletion could create both costs and benefits for subordinate competitors. We used capture-recapture models fitted to data from a 7-year camera-trap study in Kafue National Park, Zambia, to obtain baseline estimates of leopard population density and sex-specific apparent survival rates. Kafue is affected by prey depletion, and densities of large herbivores preferred by lions have declined more than the densities of smaller herbivores preferred by leopards. Lion density is consequently low. Estimates of leopard density were comparable to ecosystems with more intensive protection and favourable prey densities. However, our study site is located in an area with good ecological conditions and high levels of protection relative to other portions of the ecosystem, so extrapolating our estimates across the Park or into adjacent Game Management Areas would not be valid. Our results show that leopard density and survival within north-central Kafue remain good despite prey depletion, perhaps because (1) prey depletion has had weaker effects on preferred leopard prey compared to larger prey preferred by lions, and (2) the density of dominant competitors is consequently low. Our results show that the effects of prey depletion can be more complex than uniform decline of all large carnivore species, and warrant further investigation.

Keywords

Kafue National Park; leopard; Panthera pardus; population density; prey density; prey depletion; survival; Zambia

Published in

Oryx

2022, volume: 56, number: 4, article number: PII S0030605321000223
Publisher: CAMBRIDGE UNIV PRESS

Authors' information

Vinks, Milan A.
Montana State University Bozeman
Vinks, Milan A.
Zambian Carnivore Programme
Montana State University
Zambian Carnivore Programme
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Rosenblatt, Elias
University of Vermont
Becker, Matthew S.
Zambian Carnivore Programme
Becker, Matthew S.
Montana State University Bozeman
Schuette, Paul
United States Department of the Interior
Goodheart, Ben
Montana State University Bozeman
Sanguinetti, Carolyn
Zambian Carnivore Programme
Banda, Kambwiri
Zambian Carnivore Programme
Chifunte, Clive Musiya
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Chifunte, Clive (Chifunte, Clive )
Department of National Parks and Wildlife
Simukonda, Chuma
Zambian Dept Natl Pk and Wildlife

UKÄ Subject classification

Ecology

Publication Identifiers

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605321000223

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/116952