The Lion King and the Hyaena Queen: large carnivore interactions and coexistence

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2015 Nov;90(4):1197-214. doi: 10.1111/brv.12152. Epub 2014 Dec 20.


Interactions among species, which range from competition to facilitation, have profound effects on ecosystem functioning. Large carnivores are of particular importance in shaping community structure since they are at the top of the food chain, and many efforts are made to conserve such keystone species. Despite this, the mechanisms of carnivore interactions are far from understood, yet they are key to enabling or hindering their coexistence and hence are highly relevant for their conservation. The goal of this review is thus to provide detailed information on the extents of competition and facilitation between large carnivores and their impact in shaping their life histories. Here, we use the example of spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) and lions (Panthera leo) and provide a comprehensive knowledge of their interactions based on meta-analyses from available literature (148 publications). Despite their strong potential for both exploitation and interference competition (range and diet overlap, intraguild predation and kleptoparasitism), we underline some mechanisms facilitating their coexistence (different prey-age selection and scavenging opportunities). We stress the fact that prey abundance is key to their coexistence and that hyaenas forming very large groups in rich ecosystems could have a negative impact on lions. We show that the coexistence of spotted hyaenas and lions is a complex balance between competition and facilitation, and that prey availability within the ecosystem determines which predator is dominant. However, there are still many gaps in our knowledge such as the spatio-temporal dynamics of their interactions. As both species' survival becomes increasingly dependent on protected areas, where their densities can be high, it is critical to understand their interactions to inform both reintroduction programs and protected area management.

Keywords: Crocuta crocuta; Panthera leo; facilitation; interspecific competition; intraguild predation; kleptoparasitism; predator; scavenging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Female
  • Hyaenidae / physiology*
  • Lions / physiology*
  • Male