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The characteristics and consequences of African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) den site selection
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology  (IF2.98),  Pub Date : 2021-07-19, DOI: 10.1007/s00265-021-03047-8
B. F. Alting, E. Bennitt, K. A. Golabek, B. J. Pitcher, J. W. McNutt, A. M. Wilson, H. Bates, N. R. Jordan

Abstract

Many species rear offspring in fixed sites, returning frequently to provision them, and the selection of these sites is a critical decision in the life cycle, as they may in some instances increase susceptibility to predators. African wild dogs are a groupliving large carnivore that rear their offspring in fixed sites, provisioning dependent pups in dens for 3 months post-birth. Where possible, African wild dogs select den sites in rocky terrain, and it is hypothesised that this is because lions, their main predators, generally avoid this habitat. In the Okavango Delta, Botswana, there is a lack of rocky terrain, providing an opportunity to assess whether lions drive den site selection. GPS collar data from 7 impala and 4 lions revealed that both species prefer to reside in grassland and mixed woodland habitats, demonstrating that these are high risk/reward areas for African wild dogs. Using GPS collar data from 16 African wild dog packs over 8 years, our study characterised 116 African wild dog den sites identified in the field. Packs showed a preference for denning in mopane woodland, which lions avoid, and packs commuted further from the den each day as the den’s distance to grassland and mixed woodland increased, suggesting a preference for hunting in this habitat. Our results suggest that African wild dogs trade-off the costs of commuting and predation risk, such that longer commuting costs confer increased safety.

Significance statement

Species which utilise dens, nests, or other fixed sites to rear offspring must balance the need to protect their young from predators with the need to acquire resources for themselves and their young. The selection of den sites is expected to be of considerable importance to enable the animal to meet these two requirements and successfully raise young. Our study of African wild dogs indicates that they select dens in resource-scarce areas which are likely to minimise interactions with their main predator, lions. This increases the distance to prey-rich areas and therefore the cost of hunting. Availability of appropriate habitat for both hunting and denning is therefore important when considering landscapes appropriate for African wild dog conservation, energetic constraints of breeding, and home-range indices.