Energetics of a super-predator: the cheetah

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

The race for survival is common to all living organisms: when it comes to predator-prey interactions, this involves predators developing more effective means to catch prey whilst their prey counteracts with new evasion tactics. Energy is a primary limiting resource in most natural systems. To understand how energy budgets compel certain species to inhabit specific environments, it is necessary to identify a species that displays extreme energy requirements. Within mammals, large predators often experience high energy costs while hunting and it is suggested that this may restrict their ecological niches, obliging them to inhabit only areas with abundant food sources and minimal competition. However, no study has yet attempted to measure energy expenditure in a large carnivore while simultaneously monitoring interactions between competitors and prey. With the greatest power output for their size of any mammal and the greatest speed reached on land, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are positioned at an apex in the topography of evolutionary adaptation. Does such an evolutionary peak come with a cost? Research suggests cheetahs are severely restricted in their abilities to acquire and utilise energy. In the current study, we will measure energy expenditure in free-ranging cheetahs to determine which behaviours or circumstances cause particular energetic constraints. Cheetahs are built for speed, accelerating from 0 to 30 kph in three strides and reaching a maximum speed of about 110 kph in 4 seconds. At full speed, the cheetah is running at about three strides per second and the respiratory rate climbs from 60 to 150 breaths per minute. Cheetahs can only maintain this for a few hundred metres before exhaustion. Such a high-speed foraging strategy imposes severe limits on all other aspects of their lives, leaving them vulnerable to starvation, or to reproductive failure due to lack of energy. This is because their predation tactics are energetically costly, and, being 'built for speed' rather than strength, they are easily driven off their prey by more robust rival species. Consequently, cheetahs are suggested to be at an 'energetic edge', with the viability both of individual animals and populations depending on how close individuals approach the evolutionary limits of energy supply and demand. An understanding of their energetic tactics will therefore help provide insights as to how energetic constraints can shape the evolution of these super-predators. Energy use will be measured using the doubly labelled water technique [1] whilst field observations will be made of activities and of incidents where rival species steal prey or interact with cheetahs in other ways that may affect their energy balances. In addition, multi-channel data loggers -'daily diaries' - will be attached to the cheetahs using collars for up to 80 days at a time. These devices provide data on detailed movement in three dimensions [2] at a very fine resolution (32 Hz). Interpretation of the resulting electronic traces recorded will reveal the time spent on various activities such as resting, feeding, walking and running. The data will also be used to calculate a proxy of energy expenditure, known as 'overall dynamic body acceleration'. This will complement the energetics data and provide a fine-scale record of continuous activity. Thus, individual activities and their associated energy costs will be elucidated to paint a complete picture of the animals' energy budgets. The study will provide valuable information as to how carnivores in general manage their energy budgets. It will also demonstrate how the measurement of physiological characteristics can help determine the long-term viability of rare and threatened species. Thus we shall be providing insights into how energetic constraints can shape species' viability. [1] Speakman, J.R. Doubly Labelled Water. 1997. Chapman and Hall. [2] Wilson, R.P. et al. 2008 Endang. Species. Res. 3:1-15
 
Description We have achieved our primary objective of measuring the energy expenditure of free-ranging cheetahs and determining what causes them to have high costs. Their energy costs are driven by walking or travelling and not chasing prey.
Exploitation Route The study presents an initial investigation into the framework of how to think about animal energetics and conservation. Specifically, this work has highlighted how some stressors may be responsible for increasing wild animal energy expenditure, and therefore why they may not be able to live in certain environments.
Sectors Environment

URL https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&gws_rd=ssl#q=scantlebury+cheetah+energy&start=0
 
Description The material of the recent publication "Mass limits hunting options in terrestrial, cursorial predators" was covered in the popular press (e.g. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/rugby-football-stars-could-up-9809234) In addition, the work has been filmed by NHK (Japan) and the BBC (UK) "animals with cameras" and for PBS (USA).
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Collaboration with Rory Wilson Swansea 
Organisation Swansea University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collection and sharing of data
Collaborator Contribution Analysis of data and provision of specialist data logging devices as well as specialist software to analyse the data
Impact We are in the process of preparing joint publications
Start Year 2012
 
Description Dr Michael Mills 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Dr Mills visited Queen's University Belfast and gave a seminar about the research. Dr Mills is working in South Africa but was based at Oxford at the time.

After the talk, a lot of interest in the topic was stimulated and some ideas for continued research were generated
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Preparation of film footage for an episode of "Animals with Cameras" for the BBC. Due to be aired in Autumn 2017. Also filmed for PBS in America. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Preparation of a film on cheetahs detailing how they survive and hunt in Namibia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Preparation of program for Japanese NHK on cheetahs. Due to be aired Spring 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Preparation of a film on cheetahs detailing how they survive and hunt in Namibia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016