Jackal ecology on reserves and farms

Ecology and population dynamics of black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) on reserves and farms

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Predation management

Research Institute: Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela University

Researcher: Prof Graham Kerley

The Research Team

TitleInitialsSurnameHighest Qualification

Year of completion : 2017

Aims of the project

  • To determine dispersal direction between subpopulations
  • To compare demographic structures between subpopulatins
  • To resource use between subpopulations

Executive Summary


Lethal carnivore management, aimed at reducing carnivore impacts, threatens the persistence of carnivores globally. The effects of killing carnivores will depend on their life histories and social structures. Smaller canids, like black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas), are highly adaptable and display variable population-level responses to mortality sources, which may contribute to their success in fragmented landscapes. Jackals, the dominant predator of livestock in South Africa, are widely hunted to reduce this predation. This hunting is heterogeneous across the landscape, focussed on livestock and game farms, with nature reserves acting as refuges.

The aim of this research was to investigate the ecology and population dynamics of jackals in response to heterogeneous anthropogenic mortality. I hypothesized that the spatial variation in hunting results in the formation of a source-sink population structure, which contributes to the persistence of jackals. I addressed this hypothesis by evaluating two criteria, essential for the formation of a source-sink system in larger mammals.

Firstly, I confirm that hunting pressures result in the formation of distinct subpopulations with asymmetrical dispersal (i.e. compensatory immigration) from unhunted reserves to neighbouring hunted farms. Secondly, I show that jackal subpopulation display asynchronous demographics, with farm populations displaying a relatively younger age structure and an associated increase in reproductive output (i.e. compensatory reproduction). This confirms the formation of a hunting-induced source-sink system. Additionally, I show that jackals have a catholic diet, which confers a level of adaptability to direct (anthropogenic mortality, prey provisioning) and indirect (alteration in prey base) habitat modifications. This dietary flexibility allows jackals to obtain the appropriate resources to achieve reproductive condition. The relatively better body condition of younger jackals in sink habitats allows for compensatory reproduction which contributes to the success of jackals on hunted farms.

Based on my findings, I hypothesize that the compensatory life history responses of jackals to anthropogenic mortality may be ascribed to two interconnected mechanism. Dispersal is presumably driven by density-dependent interference competition, as dominant territorial pairs outcompete subordinates in high-density reserve areas, forcing them to disperse onto low-density farms (i.e. ideal despotic model). Additionally, farms likely represent attractive habitats, owing to a reduction in conspecifics and a concomitant increase in resource availability (including anthropogenic resource provisioning). Therefore, dispersing subordinates presumably select for farms which are perceived as good quality habitats, as the high risks of anthropogenic mortality cannot be perceived by dispersing individuals. This results in the formation of an attractive sink or ecological trap. These compensatory processes will continue to counter population management actions as long as recruitment from unmanaged areas persists. This hypothesis provides a conceptual framework for future research directions in understanding jackal persistence and management (i.e. specifically focussing on controlling dispersal) of jackal populations.


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Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Graham Kerly on graham.kerley@mandela.ac.za

Jackal ecology on reserves and farms

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