A new study has found an explanation for why there are so few lions in Southern and Eastern Africa. Researchers looked at the relationship that predators have with their available prey and came to a surprising realization.
While many of us would probably assume that the more prey a species of predators has available, the more the number of predators will increase, a group of researchers have shown that that’s not at all the case. In fact, the number of predators found in an ecosystem will always be significantly smaller than that of the prey in the same ecosystem.
The study started with Ian Hatton, PhD student from McGill University, who set out to study the relationship between lions and prey in Southern and Eastern Africa, in protected parks. He was surprised to notice that even though there was an abundance of Zebras and gazelles running around, the presence of lions was pretty scarce.
PhD Hatton asked some colleagues for help, and further research showed that this was the typical pattern for all predator – prey relationships. Areas with large prey populations do not also host large predator populations. The number of predators was slightly more significant in these areas, but only slightly, it was not a proportional increase.
PhD Hatton offered a statement explaining that “When you double your prey, you also increase your predators, but not to the same extent. Instead they grow at a much diminished rate in comparison to prey”.
But what’s even more fascinations is that this pattern isn’t even limited to the relationship between carnivores and herbivores, but that it also applies to the relationship between herbivores and plants that they consume.
The findings surprised even the researchers themselves. Kevin McCann, study co-author and expert from the Department of Integrated Biology from Guelph University, offered a statement of his own informing that “We kept being astonished. This is just an amazing pattern”.
The explanation that the research team found is that prey reproduction rates are directly responsible for this pattern. Prey animals reproduce at very slow rates when they live in crowded environments. What this means is that their population mostly contains adult individuals that are healthy and move quickly, making them a lot harder to catch than cubs or old individuals that are weak or slow.
The discovery supports the notion that all species are interconnected and that removing or adding one into an environment will change the entire environment.
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