Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procbThe Royal Society PublishingProceedings BAboutBrowse by SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Proc Biol Sci. 2004 September 7; 271(1550): 1867–1874.
PMCID: PMC1691790

Top-down population regulation of a top predator: lions in the Ngorongoro Crater.


Efforts to determine whether bottom-up or top-down processes regulate populations have been hampered by difficulties in accurately estimating the population's carrying capacity and in directly measuring food intake rate, the impacts of interspecific competition and exposure to natural enemies. We report on 40 years of data on the lion population in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, which showed strong evidence of density-dependent regulation at 100-120 individuals but has remained below 60 individuals for the past decade despite consistently high prey abundance. The lions enjoy a higher per capita food-intake rate and higher cub recruitment at low population density, and interspecific competition has not increased in recent years. These animals have suffered from a number of severe disease outbreaks over the past 40 years, but, whereas the population recovered exponentially from a severe epizootic in 1963, three outbreaks between 1994 and 2001 have occurred in such rapid succession that the population has been unable to return to the carrying capacity. The Crater population may have become unusually vulnerable to infectious disease in recent years owing to its close proximity to a growing human population and a history of close inbreeding. The Crater lions may therefore provide important insights into the future of many endangered populations.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (187K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Acevedo-Whitehouse Karina, Gulland Frances, Greig Denise, Amos William. Inbreeding: Disease susceptibility in California sea lions. Nature. 2003 Mar 6;422(6927):35–35. [PubMed]
  • Burrows R, Hofer H, East ML. Demography, extinction and intervention in a small population: the case of the Serengeti wild dogs. Proc Biol Sci. 1994 Jun 22;256(1347):281–292. [PubMed]
  • Caro TM, Laurenson MK. Ecological and genetic factors in conservation: a cautionary tale. Science. 1994 Jan 28;263(5146):485–486. [PubMed]
  • Cleaveland S, Laurenson MK, Taylor LH. Diseases of humans and their domestic mammals: pathogen characteristics, host range and the risk of emergence. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2001 Jul 29;356(1411):991–999. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mitchell Charles E, Power Alison G. Release of invasive plants from fungal and viral pathogens. Nature. 2003 Feb 6;421(6923):625–627. [PubMed]
  • Packer C, Pusey AE, Eberly LE. Egalitarianism in female African lions. Science. 2001 Jul 27;293(5530):690–693. [PubMed]
  • Reid Jane M, Arcese Peter, Keller Lukas F. Inbreeding depresses immune response in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia): direct and inter-generational effects. Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 22;270(1529):2151–2157. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Roelke-Parker ME, Munson L, Packer C, Kock R, Cleaveland S, Carpenter M, O'Brien SJ, Pospischil A, Hofmann-Lehmann R, Lutz H, et al. A canine distemper virus epidemic in Serengeti lions (Panthera leo). Nature. 1996 Feb 1;379(6564):441–445. [PubMed]
  • Scott ME, Dobson A. The role of parasites in regulating host abundance. Parasitol Today. 1989 Jun;5(6):176–183. [PubMed]
  • Sillero-Zubiri C, King AA, Macdonald DW. Rabies and mortality in Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis). J Wildl Dis. 1996 Jan;32(1):80–86. [PubMed]
  • Torchin Mark E, Lafferty Kevin D, Dobson Andrew P, McKenzie Valerie J, Kuris Armand M. Introduced species and their missing parasites. Nature. 2003 Feb 6;421(6923):628–630. [PubMed]
  • West Peyton M, Packer Craig. Sexual selection, temperature, and the lion's mane. Science. 2002 Aug 23;297(5585):1339–1343. [PubMed]

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society