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Bio-bullets

Why there is no such thing as a migratory carnivore

Carnivores fail to migrate with their ungulate prey because of  energetic, not reproductive, limitations.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: The reason why no predator can fully follow migratory ungulates, which move on average only a few kilometres each day of the year, is that all carnivores are genetically committed to being helpless at birth, requiring months of growth before they can keep up with their parents. By contrast, the migratory ungulates{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} have precocial, long-legged newborns that don’t delay the progress of the herd.{!njaccess}… See the hidden half of Prof. Mumblebard’s claim by subscribing here{/njaccess}

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: It’s true that carnivores give birth to immobile young. Nevertheless, there must be a more basic reason why, worldwide, no carnivore has adapted its reproduction to keep up with the full circuit of any migratory herbivore. In the Serengeti, where wildebeest, zebra, Thomson's gazelle and eland migrate hundreds of kilometres each year, neither lion nor spotted hyena nor cheetah nor painted dog migrate in tandem. Instead, these predators tend to reside year-round in a fixed area and to endure a season of hunger when the migratory herbivores are away. Similarly, in Alaska, the barren-ground caribou migrates from taiga to tundra and back each year, yet the wolf accompanies it only part of the way and thus misses the birth season of its prey when killing would theoretically be easiest. The reason is that herbivores{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} use microbial fermentation in gut chambers to convert green fibre to saturated fatty ions. These components of saturated fats are an optimal source of energy for muscles. By contrast, the carnivores rely on costly denitrification of the excessive protein in their diets, which leaves them with glucose, a suboptimal fuel for muscles relative to saturated fatty ions. Because the grades of fuel differ between the two trophic levels, the inability of carnivores to migrate is thermodynamically inevitable rather than being a mere accident of phylogeny.

speaker icon"In other words"

{!njaccess}… Reveal the hidden half of this response by Robin and the Honey Badger by subscribing here{/njaccess}

 

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.

Why there is no such thing as a migratory carnivore

Last modified on 13 July 2015

Comments   

0 #1 Johns 2014-02-18 14:49
The commentator calls this a triathlon for the animals, but the irony is that most of the video clip shows the wildebeest walking slowly as opposed to running like triathletes. It is puzzling why the predators don’t just follow; surely lion cubs could keep up with the slow pace of the wildebeest? There must, as RHB say, be some physiological reason they don’t…

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-1 #2 Redfern 2014-02-18 14:52
Surely it’s obvious that carnivores like lions because of their social structure. They don’t follow the herds of prey because they’re territorial and their cubs are immobile and the territory is necessary for protecting the cubs.
0 #3 Gronbek 2014-02-18 14:59
@Johns: Well it all depends how often they really lengthen their stride:


Photo by Peter Mortifee

No carnivore has such long legs when it’s only a few weeks old, does it?
0 #4 Julien Peter Benney 2014-03-03 01:52
This is a fascinating point, which may be of still greater importance in the context of no indigenous agriculture in Southern South America – almost certainly the most eutrophic region in geological history, where for the first time in 500,000,000 years of life gets the nutrient balance “perfect”.

On the pampas and Patagonian steppe – more extensive during the Ice Ages – escape would have been the optimal structure with the unrivalled supply of terrestrial and marine animal protein for carnivores. Consequently, hierarchical herd structures would have been eliminated rapidly by natural selection, as shown by the giant Macrauchenia which could escape as fast as a gazelle despite weighing one tonne.

It is implausible that the extinct mammals of lowland South America would have been domesticable had they survived, and probably owing to shattering seeds and high frequency of dioecy, none of the region’s plants has ever been cultivated as food.

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