Landscape Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 337–351 | Cite as

How key habitat features influence large terrestrial carnivore movements: waterholes and African lions in a semi-arid savanna of north-western Zimbabwe

  • Marion ValeixEmail author
  • Andrew J. Loveridge
  • Zeke Davidson
  • Hillary Madzikanda
  • Hervé Fritz
  • David W. Macdonald
Research article


Within a landscape where prey has an aggregated distribution, predators can take advantage of the spatial autocorrelation of prey density and intensify their search effort in areas of high prey density by using area-restricted search behaviour. In African arid and semi-arid savannas, large herbivores tend to aggregate around scarce water sources. We tested the hypothesis that water sources are a key determinant of habitat selection and movement patterns of large free-ranging predators in such savannas, using the example of the African lion. We used data from 19 GPS radio-collared lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Maps of lions’ trajectories showed that waterholes are key loci on the lions’ route-maps. Compositional analyses revealed that lions significantly selected for areas located within 2 km of a waterhole. In addition, analysis of lions’ night paths showed that when lions are close to a waterhole (<2 km), they move at lower speed, cover shorter distances per night (both path length and net displacement) and follow a more tortuous path (higher turning angle, lower straightness index and higher fractal dimension) than when they are further from a waterhole. Hence, our results strongly suggest that lions adopt area-restricted searching in the vicinity of waterholes, and reduce their search effort to minimize the time spent far from a waterhole. They provide an illustration of how key habitat features that determine the dispersion of prey (e.g. waterholes in this study) have an influence on the spatial ecology and movement patterns of terrestrial predators.


Area-restricted search Compositional analysis Fractals Habitat selection Hwange National Park Landscape structure Pantheraleo Path tortuosity 



The Director General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is acknowledged for providing the opportunity to carry out this research and for permission to publish this manuscript. This work was made possible with grants from the ANR Biodiversité “BioFun” (ANR-05-BDIV-013-01), the ANR “Fear” (ANR-08-BLAN-0022), the Darwin Initiative for Biodiversity Grant 162/09/015, The Eppley Foundation, Disney Foundation, Marwell Preservation Trust, Regina B. Frankenburg Foundation, Panthera Foundation, and the generosity of Joan and Riv Winant. We thank all the people that participated in the fieldwork, particularly Jane Hunt. We thank Simon Chamaillé-Jammes for his fruitful advice during the construction of this manuscript.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marion Valeix
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Andrew J. Loveridge
    • 1
  • Zeke Davidson
    • 1
  • Hillary Madzikanda
    • 3
  • Hervé Fritz
    • 2
  • David W. Macdonald
    • 1
  1. 1.Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Zoology DepartmentOxford UniversityAbingdonUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Laboratory of Evolutionary Biometry and BiologyUniversity of Lyon, CNRS University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 UMR 5558Villeurbanne cedexFrance
  3. 3.Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management AuthorityCauseway, HarareZimbabwe

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