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Behavioural and spatial adaptation of the Eurasian lynx to a decline in prey availability


The distribution and abundance of food resources is a major factor influencing animal populations. I studied the effect of a roe and red deer population decline on diet composition, home range size and foraging pattern in the Eurasian lynxLynx lynx (Linnaeus, 1758) in the Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF), eastern Poland. The population of cervids in BPF experienced a nearly two-fold reduction in size from 1991 through 2006 due to severe hunting pressure between 1991 and 1996. Comparison of published data on lynx diet during the high abundance of ungulates with new data obtained for the low abundance period showed that despite a significant decline in their availability, cervids (roe and red deer) continued to form the majority of the diet of lynx, with roe deer being most preferred in both periods. Home range sizes of lynx showed a tendency to increase with declining prey densities, as indicated by relative percentage increases in average yearly home range sizes amongst different sex/age groups. In response to lower availability of their main prey, lynx increased their daily straight-line movement distances by 44% and doubled the ranges covered in 5-day periods. This illustrated that, with declining prey abundance, the lynx increased their hunting efforts by either spending more time actively searching for prey or continuing foraging even after a successful hunt. Spatial analysis of the distribution of ungulates and lynx indicated that deer were evenly distributed throughout lynx ranges in BPF and spatial proximity of the predator to prey sites did not play an important role in the efficiency of hunting. Lynx may adapt to changing prey availability by increasing search effort, but this was not sufficient to prevent the negative influences of the prey decline on the lynx population. Prey depletion has an immediate effect on lynx spatial organization and, in consequence, on their density. This information has to be considered in prioritizing lynx conservation measures and management of ungulates.

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Associate editor was Andrzej Zalewski.

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Schmidt, K. Behavioural and spatial adaptation of the Eurasian lynx to a decline in prey availability. Acta Theriol 53, 1–16 (2008).

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Key words

  • Lynx lynx
  • Cervids
  • diet
  • home range
  • foraging
  • predator-prey relationships