The bigger they come, the harder they fall: body size and prey abundance influence predator–prey ratios

Chris Carbone, Nathalie Pettorelli, Philip A. Stephens

Abstract

Large carnivores are highly threatened, yet the processes underlying their population declines are still poorly understood and widely debated. We explored how body mass and prey abundance influence carnivore density using data on 199 populations obtained across multiple sites for 11 carnivore species. We found that relative decreases in prey abundance resulted in a five- to sixfold greater decrease in the largest carnivores compared with the smallest species. We discuss a number of possible causes for this inherent vulnerability, but also explore a possible mechanistic link between predator size, energetics and population processes. Our results have important implications for carnivore ecology and conservation, demonstrating that larger species are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic threats to their environment, especially those which have an adverse affect on the abundance of their prey.

  • Received October 23, 2010.
  • Accepted November 3, 2010.
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