Mammals as Predators: The Proceedings of a Symposium Held by the Zoological Society of London and the Mammal Society, London, 22nd and 23rd November 1991. – book reviews
Steven W. Buskirk
The scope of relationships considered predatory has enlarged through time. In her otherwise acclaimed The Carnivores, R. F. Ewer (1973. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York) made the curious statement that, “. . . in the history of the placental mammals, although a number of orders if any were needed. Using Chiroptera, Insectivora, and rodents, in addition to Carnivora, to examine issues of adaptation, coevolution, and conservation, it shows that the essence of predation lies in feeding on concentrated, patchily distributed packets of highly digestible, nutrient-rich organisms that die as a result of being eaten. Prey of mammals tend to be motile and to have behavioral, mechanical, or chemical mechanisms of crypticity or defense. Therefore, predation, in contrast with other forms of heterotrophy, requires adaptation and energy expenditure toward locating and acquiring foods, rather than handling and digesting them.
The papers in this volume show that predation is far more complex than prey capture, also treating morphological, neurosensory, social, and other correlates of living by killing. The proceedings of a 1991 Symposium held by The Zoological Society of London and The Mammal Society, 24 papers with references at the end of each, a preface by the editors and an index are included. About 2/3 of the papers report original data, the remainder are synthetic. The numerous figures and tables give the book a substantial appearance, which is genuine.
Seven papers concentrate on the predation dynamics and conservation of large felids on three continents. These papers identify severe resource conflicts between humans and wild cats. Surely, there exists in the world no more direct or substantive human-wildlife conflict than that involving the endangered population of Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) in the Gir forest of India, where humans heavily exploit forest products, and lions killed 20 people and mauled 100 others from 1988 to 1991. The challenges of conservation in the face of expanding human populations are dismayingly vivid in these papers.
A recurring theme in the book is the social plasticity of Carnivora. Among and within species, the chapters show striking variability in the spatial organization of predators, which has been largely attributed to flexible predator responses to spatial variation in resource abundance – the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis of David MacDonald. David Balharry’s thorough field study shows that martens apparently lack this plasticity, which he hypothesizes results from a phylogenetic intolerance of conspecifics that is not affected by resource dispersion.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprises were the chapters by Kruuk et al., on numerical responses of otters (Lutra lutra), and by Sara Churchfield, on foraging in free-ranging shrews. The latter paper uses imaginative and labor-intensive methods to show that encounter rate is the most important factor explaining prey selection by shrews.
Philip Hulme’s review of post-dispersal seed predation by rodents illustrates how far the semantic envelope of “predation” has been stretched. Hulme argues well that rodents provide useful models for identifying the currencies and rate-limiting steps in feeding on patchily distributed, highly nutritious foods. However, Hulme overexerts his point, in my view, in stating that predation is nothing more or less than heterotrophy. In so doing, he diminishes the utility of “predation” and its connotations, mentioned above.
Perhaps the sharpest focus in this collection is on predation by and conservation of large felids. Field studies on these species are done only at great expense, and this book is a rich source. Another strength is in the area of social and spatial plasticity of mammalian carnivores. Students of predation in general will find much of interest here; however, the $98.00 price ($0.20/page) will deter some individual buyers. Institutional buyers should consider it a value.
STEVEN W. BUSKIRK UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING Department of Zoology and Physiology Box 3166 Laramie, Wyoming 82071
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