Africa's overlooked top predator: Towards a better understanding of martial eagle feeding ecology in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

Richard Stratton Hatfield*, Allison G. Davis, Ralph Buij, John J. Cox, Shiv Kapila, Lemein Parmuntoro, Simon Thomsett, Munir Z. Virani, Peter Njoroge, Frank van Langevelde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Raptors exert top-down influences on ecosystems via their effects on prey population dynamics and community composition. Most raptors are sympatric with other predators, thus complicating our understanding of their relative influence in these systems. Estimates of kill rates and prey biomass recycling have been used as predation metrics that allow quantitative comparison among species and assessment of the relative role of single species within complex food webs. Few studies have produced findings of kill rates or prey biomass recycling for raptors. We used a supervised machine learning algorithm to behaviourally classify high resolution accelerometer informed GPS locations of tagged adult non-breeding martial eagles Polemaetus bellicosus in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya to estimate kill rates and prey biomass recycling. Eagle locations classified as feeding were clustered using distance and time thresholds to identify kills and calculate kill rates. Identified kill sites were quickly ground-truthed to confirm kills and identify prey species. We estimated kill rates for martial eagles at 0.59 kills day-1 for males and 0.38 kills day-1 for females, and we estimated biomass recycling per ground-truthed kill at 1796 g for males and 3860 g for females. From our sample of identified ground-truthed kills, ‘gamebirds' was the most frequently recorded prey category for male eagles and ‘small ungulates' was the most frequently recorded prey category for female eagles. These results position martial eagles close to sympatric mammalian top predators in trophic pyramids and provide evidence for their classification as a top predator.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01223
JournalWildlife Biology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Apr 2024

Keywords

  • behaviour classification
  • biomass recycling
  • kill rate
  • Polemaetus bellicosus

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Africa's overlooked top predator: Towards a better understanding of martial eagle feeding ecology in the Maasai Mara, Kenya'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this