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Karanth, K.U.; Sunquist, M.E.
Prey selection by tiger, leopard and dhole in tropical forests
1995  Journal of Animal Ecology (64): 439-450

1. Ecological factors influencing prey selection by tiger Panthera tigris, leopard Panthera pardus and dhole Cuon alpinus were investigated in an intact assemblage of large mammals in the tropical forests of Nagarahole, southern India, between 1986 and 1990. 2. Densities of large herbivores were estimated using line transects, and population structures from area counts. Carnivore diets were determined from analyses of scats (faeces) and kills. Selectivity for prey species was inferred from likelihood ratio tests comparing observed counts of scats to hypothesized scat frequencies generated from prey density estimates using parametric bootstrap simulations. Predator selectivity for size, age, sex and physical condition of prey was estimated using selection indices. 3. Ungulate and primate prey attained a density of 91 animals km-2 and comprised 89-98% of the biomass killed. Predators showed significant (P < 0.05) selectivity among prey species. Gaur Bos gaurus were preferred by tigers, whereas wild pig Sus scrofa were under-represented in leopard diet, and langur Presbytis entellus under-represented in dhole diet. 4. Tigers selected prey weighing more than 176 kg, whereas leopard and dhole focused on prey in the 30-175 kg size class. The average weights of principal prey killed by tiger, leopard and dhole were, respectively, 91.5 kg, 37.6 kg and 43.4 kg. Tiger predation was biased towards adult males in chital, sambar and wild pig, and towards young gaur. Dholes selectively preyed on adult male chital, whereas leopards did not. 5. These findings suggest that if there is choice, large carnivores selectively kill larger prey, and non-selective predation patterns reported from other tropical forests may be the result of scarcity of large prey. Because availability of prey in the appropriate size classes is not a limiting resource, selective predation may facilitate large carnivore coexistence in Nagarahole. Community structures of large carnivores in tropical forests may be highly sensitive to natural or human-induced variations in the relative densities of different size classes of prey.

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