Research Article

Ecological Change, Group Territoriality, and Population Dynamics in Serengeti Lions

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Science  21 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5708, pp. 390-393
DOI: 10.1126/science.1105122

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Territorial behavior is expected to buffer populations against short-term environmental perturbations, but we have found that group living in African lions causes a complex response to long-term ecological change. Despite numerous gradual changes in prey availability and vegetative cover, regional populations of Serengeti lions remained stable for 10- to 20-year periods and only shifted to new equilibria in sudden leaps. Although gradually improving environmental conditions provided sufficient resources to permit the subdivision of preexisting territories, regional lion populations did not expand until short-term conditions supplied enough prey to generate large cohorts of surviving young. The results of a simulation model show that the observed pattern of “saltatory equilibria” results from the lions' grouping behavior.

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