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The noble cats and the big bad scavengers: effects of dominant scavengers on solitary predators

Abstract

Scavenging is an important but poorly understood ecological process. Dominant scavengers can impose a selection pressure that alters the predator’s fitness, morphology, behavior, and ecology. Interactions between ursids, likely the most important dominant scavengers in the Holarctic region, and solitary felids, which are characterized by long feeding times, provide a good opportunity for studying the effects of kleptoparasitism by dominant scavengers. We analyzed the effects of scavenging by brown bears Ursus arctos on Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx and predator’s response to kleptoparasitism in a European temperate forest ecosystem. Bears found 32 % of lynx prey remains and 15 % of all biomass of large prey killed by lynx was lost to bears. In response, lynx increased their kill rate by 23 % but were able to compensate for only 59 % of the losses. The frequency of bear scavenging was strongly dependent on bear activity patterns and was highest during the lynx pregnancy and lactation period, when up to half of lynx kills were usurped by bears. We suggest that ursid scavenging, by promoting the hunting of smaller prey, may have played an important role in the evolution of the Lynx genus as well as other predators in the Holarctic. Our study indicates that prey loss to dominant scavengers is a widespread phenomenon among felids worldwide, including forest habitats. We highlight several implications of scavenging that could considerably improve our understanding of the ecology of vertebrate communities and the evolution of predators as well as benefit the future management and conservation of endangered predators.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank M. Jonozovič, F. Kljun, A. Marinčič, H. Potočnik, N. Ražen, T. Skrbinšek, and A. Žagar for their help with the fieldwork and A. Majić Skrbinšek for project coordination. We are also grateful to N. Selva, who reviewed the early draft and gave us several helpful suggestions, to T. Caro and M. Festa-Bianchet for suggesting further improvements, and to P.J. Nagel for improving the English. This study was partly financed by the European Union through INTERREG IIIA Neighbourhood Program Slovenia/Hungary/Croatia 2004–2006 (project “DinaRis”) and by the Slovenian Research Agency (project P1-0184), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food (project V4-0497) and the Slovenian Environmental Agency (projects no. 2523-09-100075 and 2523-08-100547).

Ethical standards

The work complies with the current laws of the country in which they were performed. Procedures involving handling of lynx and bears were permitted by the Slovenian Environmental Agency (permissions no. 35601-45/2006-6 and 35601-167/2008-4).

Author information

Correspondence to Miha Krofel.

Additional information

Communicated by M. Festa-Bianchet

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Example of kleptoparasitism by a brown bear on a female Eurasian lynx recorded with an automatic night-vision video system in the Dinaric Mountains in Croatia. The bear usurped the carcass of a male roe deer that was killed by the female lynx 3 days before the recording. The bear spent 35 min eating the carcass and later moved it a few meters from the kill site, where it consumed it completely before the lynx returned. (WMV 12142 kb)

ESM 1

Example of kleptoparasitism by a brown bear on a female Eurasian lynx recorded with an automatic night-vision video system in the Dinaric Mountains in Croatia. The bear usurped the carcass of a male roe deer that was killed by the female lynx 3 days before the recording. The bear spent 35 min eating the carcass and later moved it a few meters from the kill site, where it consumed it completely before the lynx returned. (WMV 12142 kb)

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Krofel, M., Kos, I. & Jerina, K. The noble cats and the big bad scavengers: effects of dominant scavengers on solitary predators. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 1297–1304 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-012-1384-6

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Keywords

  • Competition
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Kleptoparasitism
  • Lynx lynx
  • Temperate forest
  • Ursus arctos