Abstract

The fastest and most manoeuvrable terrestrial animals are found in savannah habitats, where predators chase and capture running prey. Hunt outcome and success rate are critical to survival, so both predator and prey should evolve to be faster and/or more manoeuvrable. Here we compare locomotor characteristics in two pursuit predator–prey pairs, lion–zebra and cheetah–impala, in their natural savannah habitat in Botswana. We show that although cheetahs and impalas were universally more athletic than lions and zebras in terms of speed, acceleration and turning, within each predator–prey pair, the predators had 20% higher muscle fibre power than prey, 37% greater acceleration and 72% greater deceleration capacity than their prey. We simulated hunt dynamics with these data and showed that hunts at lower speeds enable prey to use their maximum manoeuvring capacity and favour prey survival, and that the predator needs to be more athletic than its prey to sustain a viable success rate.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Amos for fabricating collars, N. Jordan and G. Gilfillan, M. Claase and N. Terry and BPCT research assistants for working with us in the study area and M. Flyman (DWNP) for his support and enthusiasm; J. Usherwood, R. Bomphrey and A. R. Wilson for comments on the manuscript; EPSRC (EP/H013016/1), BBSRC (BB/J018007/1) and ERC (323041) for funding. The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust was supported by private donors, Tusk Trust and the Cincinnati Zoo. Work was approved by RVC Ethics & Welfare Committee (RVC 2013 1233) and Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks Research Permits were held by J.W.M. and A.M.W. (EWT 8/36/4 plus additions) and a Botswana Veterinary Registration held by A.M.W. Tissue shipping was covered by CITES, Botswana export, Botswana National Veterinary Laboratory approval, South African transit and UK DEFRA import permits.

Author information

Author notes

    • Roger C. Woledge

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. Structure & Motion Lab, Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Hatfield AL9 7TA, UK

    • Alan M. Wilson
    • , Tatjana Y. Hubel
    • , Simon D. Wilshin
    • , John C. Lowe
    • , Maja Lorenc
    • , Oliver P. Dewhirst
    • , Hattie L. A. Bartlam-Brooks
    • , Rebecca Diack
    • , Roger C. Woledge
    • , Nancy A. Curtin
    •  & Timothy G. West
  2. Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Maun, Botswana

    • Emily Bennitt
  3. Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, Private Bag 13, Maun, Botswana

    • Krystyna A. Golabek
    •  & J. Weldon McNutt

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Contributions

A.M.W., T.Y.H. N.A.C., R.C.W. and T.G.W. conceived, designed and led the study. K.A.G., J.W.M., H.L.A.B.-B. and E.B. organized field work, monitored animals and downloaded data. A.M.W. performed veterinary procedures, J.C.L. and A.M.W. designed and built collars. R.D., M.L., N.A.C. and T.W. carried out muscle experiments and interpreted the muscle data. T.Y.H., O.P.D., T.G.W. and A.M.W. analysed data. S.W. created the model and carried out statistical analysis. A.M.W. wrote the paper with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alan M. Wilson.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks A. Biewener and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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    This file contains a description about collar design, collar data recording and collar performance with references.

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    This file contains muscle data.

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    Supplementary Data

    This file contains stride data.

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    This file contains three python codes and a supplementary guide for the python codes.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25479

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