Ant Invasion in Kenya – How Ants Make Lions Eat Less Zebras – Knowledge

Ant invasion in Kenya – How ants make lions eat less zebras – Knowledge – SRF

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As a result of an ant invasion, lions in Kenya are killing fewer zebras. What’s behind it and what elephants have to do with it.

For a long time, Kenya’s native ants protected acacia trees from elephants and other herbivores – by biting them and emitting formic acid. In return, the trees provided the ants with shelter and living space. Until an invasive species – the big-headed ant – displaced the native species and thus turned the ecosystem upside down.

The ant as landscape architect

Unlike the native ant, the invasive ant does not protect the acacia trees from herbivores. Elephants eat trees in infested areas five to seven times as often as in areas without intruders. The result: a much more open landscape. This causes lions to lose their hiding places to ambush their preferred prey – zebras.

The big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) is one of the world’s most widespread and ecologically most consequential invaders. Over the past two decades, the invasive species has managed to significantly change the predator-prey dynamic in a Kenyan savanna, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Like a research team from the University of Wyoming in the journal “Science” writes, the chain reaction is not complete.

Because African buffaloes are more demanding prey than zebras. In East Africa, for example, larger groups of lions are required to kill buffalo. The changed predator behavior could ultimately lead to changes in the size and composition of the lion prides in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

As a result, the lions change their hunting behavior: they kill more buffalo. The proportion of buffaloes killed rose from 0 to 42 percent between 2003 and 2020. At the same time, the proportion of zebras killed by lions fell from 67 to 42 percent.

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