Modeling the spatial ecology of lions (Panthera leo) in Hluhluwe - Umfolozi park.
Van Niekerk, Ryan William.
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While many studies have been done on Lions, relatively little work has been conducted on how they interact with local habitats and the factors of importance in determining home ranges and territories. The interactions between predators and patchily distributed resources and the basic tenets of Ideal Free Distribution theory have been used in this study as the basis in explaining how lions distribute themselves in space and why they choose particular areas above others in regards territory location. The study was conducted in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, South Africa and involved the use of historical lion sightings data recorded between the years 1973 and 1999 inclusive. A variety of potential explanatory variables including vegetation, topography, rainfall, main river distribution, roads, hyaena den locations and prey were used in developing logistic models which were then used to predict areas most likely to be colonised by lion. Model predictions were tested against independently collected validation data from an introduced pride . Modelling was conducted at a 1km² grid cell size. In total, seventeen models were formulated for four lion variables, namely cubs, adult females in groups of two or more, adult males seen with adult females and adult males only. All models accounted for a significant amount of deviance (p<0.001) except for one cub model (p=0.003). Models which performed best in correlations with validation data were those formulated for adult females in groups of two or more and cubs (p<0.05). Variables of importance in these models included distance from main rivers and presence/absence of public roads. Preferences for travelling on roads were influenced by vegetation type, with thicket promoting travel on roads and the opposite being true of open woodland, however this was only true for females in groups of two or more. Main rivers represent high quality resource areas for lions in the reserve since they provide water, shelter, cover (hence ease of prey capture) and travel lines.