Research Papers

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Genetic perspectives on ‘‘Lion Conservation Units’’ in Eastern and Southern Africa

Current understanding of genetic variation in lions (Panthera leo) is inadequate to guide many management decisions necessary for conservation of the species. We studied sequence variation in the mitochondrial cytochrome-b (cyt-b) gene of 75 lions and nuclear variation at 11 microsatellite loci of 480 lions across 8 range states (Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia) and 13 Lion Conservation Units (LCUs) plus two other unassigned sites (Cameroon and Zimbabwe). A total of 11 cyt-b haplotypes were found, whose variation follows an isolation-by-distance model. In combination with previously known sequences, the haplotypes document the close relationship, derived position, and limited variability of Asian and West and Central African lions relative to other extant lions. Both phylogenetic analyses and substitution networks identify two clades in Eastern and Southern Africa—one restricted to Namibia and South Africa and the other more widespread across the region. However, these analyses are equivocal on which of these is closest to the ancestor of modern lions. Microsatellite analyses showed high levels of variation within and among populations, subdivision among most LCUs, and evidence of isolation by distance. While rates of gene flow are generally low, admixture among lions in northern Botswana, Caprivi Strip (Namibia) and Zambia is apparent from STRUCTURE analyses. Conservation management plans should incorporate information on genetic variability and gene flow in delimiting management units and in guiding translocations of lions to minimize inbreeding and to control problem animals.

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A molecular analysis of African lion (Panthera leo) mating structure and extra-group paternity in Etosha National Park

The recent incorporation of molecular methods into analyses of social and mating systems has provided evidence that mating patterns often differ from those predicted by group social organization. Based on field studies and paternity analyses at a limited number of sites, African lions are predicted to exhibit a strict within-pride mating system. Extra-group paternity has not been previously reported in African lions; however, observations of extra-group associations among lions inhabiting Etosha National Park in Namibia suggest deviation from the predicted within-pride mating pattern. We analysed variation in 14 microsatellite loci in a population of 164 African lions in Etosha National Park. Genetic analysis was coupled with demographic and observational data to examine pride structure, relatedness and extra-group paternity (EGP). EGP was found to occur in 57% of prides where paternity was analysed (n = 7), and the overall rate of EGP in this population was 41% (n = 34). Group sex ratio had a significant effect on the occurrence of EGP (P

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Seasonal Diet and Prey Preference of the African Lion in a Waterhole-Driven Semi-Arid Savanna

Large carnivores inhabiting ecosystems with heterogeneously distributed environmental resources with strong seasonal variations frequently employ opportunistic foraging strategies, often typified by seasonal switches in diet. In semi-arid ecosystems, herbivore distribution is generally more homogeneous in the wet season, when surface water is abundant, than in the dry season when only permanent sources remain. Here, we investigate the seasonal contribution of the different herbivore species, prey preference and distribution of kills (i.e. feeding locations) of African lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, a semi-arid African savanna structured by artificial waterholes. We used data from 245 kills and 74 faecal samples. Buffalo consistently emerged as the most frequently utilised prey in all seasons by both male (56%) and female (33%) lions, contributing the most to lion dietary biomass. Jacobs’ index also revealed that buffalo was the most intensively selected species throughout the year. For female lions, kudu and to a lesser extent the group “medium Bovidae” are the most important secondary prey. This study revealed seasonal patterns in secondary prey consumption by female lions partly based on prey ecology with browsers, such as giraffe and kudu, mainly consumed in the early dry season, and grazers, such as zebra and suids, contributing more to female diet in the late dry season. Further, it revealed the opportunistic hunting behaviour of lions for prey as diverse as elephants and mice, with elephants taken mostly as juveniles at the end of the dry season during droughts. Jacobs’ index finally revealed a very strong preference for kills within 2 km from a waterhole for all prey species, except small antelopes, in all seasons. This suggested that surface-water resources form passive traps and contribute to the structuring of lion foraging behaviour.

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