Stable Isotope Dietary Ecology of African Carnivores: Past and Present

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Philip Hopley

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, BBK

Philip Hopley's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Chris Carbone

Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme, IOZ

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Lars Werdelin (Swedish Museum of Natural History)

Project Description:

Prey species selection, prey body mass and hunting mode are key determinants of carnivore ecology, past and present (Carbone et al., 1999; Faurby et al., 2021). Stable isotope analysis (C,O,N) of tooth enamel and hair is a powerful tool for understanding the diet of modern and fossil individuals; numerous stable isotope studies of herbivores have been undertaken, but carnivorous species are under-investigated. Carbon isotope analysis can reveal the proportion of grazers and browsers consumed by carnivore species, and a community approach can yield information on dietary niche partitioning between sympatric species (DeSantis, 2021). A recent study by Phil Hopley and Lars Werdelin (submitted) compared the stable isotope ecology of modern-day lions, leopards and spotted hyaena with Plio-Pleistocene fossil Hyaenidae and Felidae from the Turkana Basin of Kenya. Extension of this work to other carnivore groups (e.g. Canidae, Viverrinae, Mustelidae) will inform on niche partitioning between the large and small carnivore guilds through time, with evolutionary and ecological implications. Novel applications of stable isotope ecology to carnivore conservation will also be considered, including human-carnivore interactions via stock-raiding (depredation) or the consumption of human food waste.

Stable isotope analysis will be undertaken at the UCL BEIF facility, and there will be opportunities to undertake additional (palaeo)dietary approaches, such as dental microwear texture analysis. Training in stable isotope geochemistry and ecological modelling will be provided. Specimens will be collected from UK, Kenyan and South African museums, and possibly from London Zoo.

Policy Impact of Research:

This work will impact on conservation of protected species in African through improved understanding of their dietary ecology and human-carnivore interactions.

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