Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Drought and drowning equal vulture supermarket

Date:
January 9, 2014
Source:
Wildlife Conservation Society
Summary:
Researchers have discovered that vultures, rather than aggregating where animals are most abundant as previously thought, instead focus on areas and conditions where animals are most likely to die.

A Lappet-faced Vulture suns after a meal at a wildebeest carcass.
Credit: Corinne Kendall/WCS

African vultures are famous for quickly finding carcasses; so much so that they are considered clairvoyants in parts of Africa. But just how do vultures know where to find food across vast regions in the first place? In a paper appearing in the January 8th edition of the journal PLoS ONE, Dr. Corinne Kendall of Columbia University and African Vulture Technical Advisor with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and colleagues have discovered that vultures, rather than aggregating where animals are most abundant as previously thought, instead focus on areas and conditions where animals are most likely to die.

For decades, scientists have assumed that vultures would follow the largest food source available. In the case of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, this would be the migratory wildebeest herds, which in recent years have numbered in the millions. Instead, this study found that two of the three species of vultures studied preferentially selected areas of low rainfall and thus presumably high prey mortality.

Data were collected from GSM-GPS telemetry devices attached to three species of vultures in Mara-Serengeti ecosystem of East Africa. The devices send text messages back to the researcher detailing individual bird's location and altitude. The data revealed that vultures focused on the immense wildebeest herds only during the dry season when hundreds of wildebeest die each day from starvation or drowning during their dangerous river crossings.

"Our study shows that vultures seek out areas not where wildlife are most abundant, but where they are most likely to die," said lead author Corinne Kendall. "This shows that for vultures, prey mortality is more important than prey abundance."

The researchers found that for the rest of the year, vultures travel enormous distances in search of food.

Kendall said: "What has really surprised us is what the vultures do the rest of the year. From November to June, the vultures travel all over Kenya and Northern Tanzania, with some individuals using an area of more than 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) -- that's a region larger than New Jersey and New York State combined or roughly the size of the entire United Kingdom."

As one of the only obligate scavengers in the animal kingdom, vultures are specially adapted to feed on dead animals, or carcasses.

Keith Bildstein, Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and a study co-author said: "We knew that vultures use efficient soaring flight, keen eyesight, and even used information from each other to find food, but we had a poor sense of how they decide where to search on a landscape scale."

In recent years, these large movements have spelled disaster for the birds. White-backed vultures and Ruppell's vultures, two of the species studied, have been up-listed to "Endangered" status by the IUCN due to dramatic declines seen throughout the African continent.

Munir Virani, Director of Africa programs for the Peregrine Fund and co-author of the study, said: "Because the vultures spend so much time outside of protected areas, they are extremely susceptible to poisoning, which often occurs when ranchers put pesticides on the carcasses of cows and other animals killed by lions or hyenas. You can imagine how difficult it is to protect a species that uses not just multiple parks, but also spends a lot of time in areas that are completely unprotected."

But protecting these critical scavengers, which help to keep the African savannas clean and reduce the risk of rabies and other diseases, is now the focus of a new effort by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Peregrine Fund, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

Dr. Steve Zack, Coordinator of Bird Conservation at WCS, who is working with Dr. Kendall and others in shaping a conservation effort to revive vulture populations while eliminating the poisoning, said: "This information is critical to understanding the scale of effort needed to protect vulture species in East Africa. The new knowledge makes clear that engaging local communities well beyond park boundaries is needed to confront and eliminate the poisoning."

This work was done in collaboration with Dr. Virani of The Peregrine Fund, Dr. Hopcraft of Frankfurt Zoological Society, Dr. Bildstein of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and Dr. Rubenstein of Princeton University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Corinne J. Kendall, Munir Z. Virani, J. Grant C. Hopcraft, Keith L. Bildstein, Daniel I. Rubenstein. African Vultures Don’t Follow Migratory Herds: Scavenger Habitat Use Is Not Mediated by Prey Abundance. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e83470 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083470

Cite This Page:

Wildlife Conservation Society. "Drought and drowning equal vulture supermarket." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109003750.htm>.
Wildlife Conservation Society. (2014, January 9). Drought and drowning equal vulture supermarket. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109003750.htm
Wildlife Conservation Society. "Drought and drowning equal vulture supermarket." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109003750.htm (accessed August 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) The discovery of a bear cub in the Pyrenees mountains made headlines in April 2014. Despire several attempts to find the animal's mother, the cub remained alone. Now, the Pyrenees Conservation Foundation has constructed an enclosure. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Health officials are working to fast-track a vaccine — the West-African Ebola outbreak has killed more than 700. But why didn't we already have one? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Previous studies have made the link between birth control and breast cancer, but the latest makes the link to high-estrogen oral contraceptives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

AP (Aug. 1, 2014) A rare whale fossil has been pulled from a Southern California backyard. The 16- to 17-million-year-old baleen whale fossil is one of about 20 baleen whale fossils known to exist. (Aug. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins