A community–level evaluation of the impact of prey behavioural and ecological characteristics on predator diet composition

Abstract

Although predation avoidance is the most commonly invoked explanation for vertebrate social evolution, there is little evidence that individuals in larger groups experience lower predation rates than those in small groups. We compare the morphological and behavioural traits of mammal prey species in the Taï forest, Ivory Coast, with the diet preferences of three of their nonndash;human predators: leopards, chimpanzees and African crowned eagles. Individual predators show marked differences in their predation rates on prey species of different body sizes, but clear patterns with prey behaviour were apparent only when differences in prey habitat use were incorporated into the analyses. Leopard predation rates are highest for terrestrial species living in smaller groups, whereas eagle predation rates are negatively correlated with group size only among arboreal prey. When prey predation rates are summed over all three predators, terrestrial species incur higher predation rates than arboreal species and, within both categories, predation rates decline with increasing prey group size and decreasing density of groups in the habitat. These results reveal that it is necessary to consider anti–predator strategies in the context of a dynamic behavioural interaction between predators and prey.