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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 20;5(9). pii: e12758. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012758.

Group dynamics of zebra and wildebeest in a woodland savanna: effects of predation risk and habitat density.

Author information

  • 1School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. thaker@ukzn.ac.za

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Group dynamics of gregarious ungulates in the grasslands of the African savanna have been well studied, but the trade-offs that affect grouping of these ungulates in woodland habitats or dense vegetation are less well understood. We examined the landscape-level distribution of groups of blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, and Burchell's zebra, Equus burchelli, in a predominantly woodland area (Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa; KGR) to test the hypothesis that group dynamics are a function of minimizing predation risk from their primary predator, lion, Panthera leo.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Using generalized linear models, we examined the relative importance of habitat type (differing in vegetation density), probability of encountering lion (based on utilization distribution of all individual lions in the reserve), and season in predicting group size and composition. We found that only in open scrub habitat, group size for both ungulate species increased with the probability of encountering lion. Group composition differed between the two species and was driven by habitat selection as well as predation risk. For both species, composition of groups was, however, dominated by males in open scrub habitats, irrespective of the probability of encountering lion.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:

Distribution patterns of wildebeest and zebra groups at the landscape level directly support the theoretical and empirical evidence from a range of taxa predicting that grouping is favored in open habitats and when predation risk is high. Group composition reflected species-specific social, physiological and foraging constraints, as well as the importance of predation risk. Avoidance of high resource open scrub habitat by females can lead to loss of foraging opportunities, which can be particularly costly in areas such as KGR, where this resource is limited. Thus, landscape-level grouping dynamics are species specific and particular to the composition of the group, arising from a tradeoff between maximizing resource selection and minimizing predation risk.

PMID:
20862216
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2942830
Free PMC Article

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