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A neotaphonomic view of prey demographics and predator preferences at Ngamo Pan, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
- Hutson, Jarod M.
- Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2016 v.441 pp. 936-948
- body size, bones, buffaloes, carnivores, conservation areas, death, demographic statistics, ecosystems, fossils, landscapes, national parks, predation, predator-prey relationships, predators, prediction, savannas, wildebeest, zebras, Zimbabwe
- Waterholes in African savanna ecosystems are often locations of carnivore serial predation. At Ngamo Pan, located in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, predators take advantage of natural and artificial waterholes to ambush prey, resulting in the a vast accumulation of large mammal bones across the local landscape. Lions are presumed responsible for many predation occurrences surrounding waterhole locations in Hwange National Park, but attributing prey deaths to a specific predator at Ngamo Pan can only be hypothesized, as most kills occur at night and have not been directly observed. Here I use several demographic measures of the prey population to evaluate the potential influence of various predators in the accumulation of the Ngamo Pan bone assemblage. Known predator preferences relative to prey body size and prey age are drawn from other African national parks and game reserves and used to gauge the impact of lions and other carnivores at Ngamo Pan. In terms of prey body size, the preferences of lions are overwhelmingly represented in the Ngamo Pan death assemblage. The abundance of wildebeest and zebra remains reflects the dependence of those species on waterhole locations even when lions are present. On the other hand, buffalo avoid waterholes in the presence of lions, leading to fewer predation occurrences at Ngamo Pan. Wildebeest and zebra age profiles do not conform to other known patterns of death generated by specific carnivores, but rather reflect the influences of multiple predators. These data on prey demographics, coupled with landscape and environmental data are important for understanding the dynamics and underlying mechanics of predator–prey relationships at Ngamo Pan. Such mechanisms are likely to be long-standing features of African savanna ecosystems, and can be useful in predicting predator–prey relationships in fossil bone assemblages from similar waterhole localities.