Thesis Colloquium at CES on 22 September 2022 at 10:00 am titled "Space-use patterns in predator-prey systems" by Vibhuti Shastri from IISc
Patterns of space-use are key in understanding predator-prey interactions. The spatial overlap of predators with their prey influence their encounter rates, predation rates, and ultimately predator-prey dynamics. Animals engage in a dynamic behavioural response race, where prey actively try to avoid predators while predators seek out prey-rich spaces. Many extant studies fail to test for the emergent space-use outcome of the dynamic response race by either holding the prey or predator fixed or not addressing the underlying behavioural mechanisms that drive space use in mobile predator and prey.
In a qualitative literature survey, I examined how many studies report spatial correlations between the distributions of mobile predator and prey and identified external constraints or ‘anchors’ that may influence the observed spatial distributions. Anchors can be constraints like fixed resources or presence of refuges that restrict free access to patches of choice. If prey are constrained, predators win the behavioural response race and show a positive spatial overlap with the prey, whereas, a negative spatial correlation is seen if predators are constrained. Our results show that the presence of the identified anchors may drive the reported outcomes of the predator-prey space-use patterns. Such anchors can be important predictors of the emergent space-use patterns in predator-prey systems. I then studied how predators from the African savanna choose to distribute themselves in space across the timescale of years and seasons and how these time scales affect their choice of kill hotspots. I used movement data for tagged leopards and African wild dogs from the Karongwe Game Reserve in South Africa for this analysis. Our results show that the seasons affect where animals choose to hunt within their home range and that the choice of home range itself may also change over seasons and years. There was also a difference in the space-use of leopard and wild dogs as expected from the differences in their behavioural mechanisms and hunting strategies. Overall, we conclude that a positive spatial overlap alone may not translate to uniform predation risk in the landscape as there are certain hotspots with higher encounter and predation activity that are riskier for prey.