Laikipia Plateau: Intraguild Interactions on Camera


Fieldwork continues to go well: we had a record day on the grid earlier this week: seven carnivores in one morning (plus an unfortunate striped ground squirrel, just for diversity)! That haul included my very first capture of a dwarf mongoose. The number of species in my dataset is climbing, slowly but surely…

Dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula)

Dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula)

One of the foundational concepts behind the concept of mesopredator release—and, thus, my project—is that predators that share a habitat will influence each other in some way due to some degree of niche overlap. This overlap could be dietary, spatial, temporal, etc. When trophically similar, sympatric species competing for resources, we say they are demonstrating “intraguild interactions.”

Intraguild interactions are typically divided into two major categories. In interference competition, individuals of different species engage in direct agonistic encounters with one another. An example of this would be a lion and a hyena squabbling with each other over a kill. In contrast, exploitation competition means that species affect one another through their use of local resources: for example, if Species A excels at harvesting a certain kind of prey, that may leave less opportunity for Species B to consume it, forcing that species to either find an alternate food source or shift its territory.

While there is solid evidence that intraguild interactions take place, finding direct evidence of encounters between carnivores—stealthy and often nocturnal creatures—can be daunting. That is why I was so excited to come across this gem of a camera sequence while I was reviewing my game camera data this weekend:

Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) antagonizes a white-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda).

Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) antagonizes a white-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda).

That is a white-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda) crouching behind the trap, while the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) antagonizes it. The jackal yipped at it for a bit, then stole some of the bait from the trap without going inside (drat!) and ran off . . . only to come back and resume barking at the mongoose. Then the jackal appeared to get a bit greedy about hogging the bait, because it dashed inside the trap to retrieve the rest of the snacks . . . and proceeded to get caught, of course. Mongoose: 1, Jackal: 0.

An attempt to monopolize the tasty bait earned him a night in the trap...

An attempt to monopolize the tasty bait earned him a night in the trap...

Of course, it’s a bit of an artificial situation to have a stand-off over a wire trap containing boiled eggs and fried beef fat, but it was still fascinating to see the two species interact with each other at all. The mongoose never budged, despite the jackal’s antics. From my experiences handling them, the white-tailed mongoose is a far fiercer animal than the jackal, which may explain why the jackal never actually crossed to the mongoose’s side of the trap . . .perhaps a sign of whose bark is worse than their bite, and vice-versa?

Neither barking nor biting will get you out of a trap, though, and I suspect that the jackal might have regretted his boldness . . .

Chagrin much, jackal?

Chagrin much, jackal?

I took down that trapping grid this morning (in the rain, but fortunately with a dedicated crew of helpers) and am moving it elsewhere during the coming week. I will have more updates for you soon!

Images: copyright by author.

Previously in this series:

Laikipia Plateau: mesopredators in Kenya

Laikipia Plateau: I have arrived

Laikipia Plateau: First Scouting Session

Laikipia Plateau: What is a Mesopredator?

Laikipia Plateau: Mesocarnivore Update

Laikipia Plateau: Rain Dance and Dog Excitement

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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