Diet, morphology, and interspecific killing in carnivora

Am Nat. 2006 Apr;167(4):524-36. doi: 10.1086/501033. Epub 2006 Mar 7.


Interspecific killing is a key determinant of the abundances and distributions of carnivores, their prey, and nonprey community members. Similarity of body size has been proposed to lead competitors to seek similar prey, which increases the likelihood of interference encounters, including lethal ones. We explored the influence of body size, diet, predatory habits, and taxonomic relatedness on interspecific killing. The frequency of attacks depends on differences in body size: at small and large differences, attacks are less likely to occur; at intermediate differences, killing interactions are frequent and related to diet overlap. Further, the importance of interspecific killing as a mortality factor in the victim population increases with an increase in body size differences between killers and victims. Carnivores highly adapted to kill vertebrate prey are more prone to killing interactions, usually with animals of similar predatory habits. Family-level taxonomy influences killing interactions; carnivores tend to interact more with species in the same family than with species in different families. We conclude that although resource exploitation (diet), predatory habits, and taxonomy are influential in predisposing carnivores to attack each other, relative body size of the participants is overwhelmingly important. We discuss the implications of interspecific killing for body size and the dynamics of geographic ranges.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Carnivora / anatomy & histology
  • Carnivora / classification
  • Carnivora / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Geography
  • Population Density
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Tooth / anatomy & histology