Effect of prey mass and selection on predator carrying capacity estimates
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- Jooste, E., Hayward, M.W., Pitman, R.T. et al. Eur J Wildl Res (2013) 59: 487. doi:10.1007/s10344-013-0696-9
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The ability to determine the prey-specific biomass intake of large predators is fundamental to their conservation. In the absence of actual prey data, researchers generally use a “unit mass” method (estimated as 3/4 adult female mass) to calculate the biomass intake of predators. However, differences in prey preference and range across geographic regions are likely to have an influence on biomass calculations. Here we investigate the influence of estimated prey mass on leopard biomass calculations, and subsequent carrying capacity estimates, in an understudied mountain population. Potential leopard feeding sites were identified using global positioning system (GPS) location clusters obtained from GPS collars. We investigated 200 potential leopard feeding sites, of which 96 were actual feeding sites. Jaw bones, horns, hooves, and other indicative bones were used to determine gender and age of prey items, which were subsequently used to calculate mass of each prey item based on previously published values. There were significant differences in the biomass values calculated using the traditional unit mass method and the calculated prey masses obtained from leopard feeding sites. However, there were no considerable differences in the carrying capacity estimates using the preferred prey species model and leopard density estimates calculated using a non-biased spatial approach, which suggests that estimating carnivore carrying capacity based on 3/4 adult female masses is a reliable method also for the mountain population in this study.