A surprising new study has found that even when the numbers of prey increase, predators aren't increasing.
Scientists may have uncovered the answer to an intriguing mystery: why the number of lions isn’t increasing along with its prey.
It would seem that as prey grows in numbers, that means more food for lions and therefore a growth in population, but as it turns out that isn’t the case, according to a Washington Post report.
So just because the amount of prey doubles, don’t expect predators to double in size either. A new study published this week in the journal Science has found that the number of prey is pretty much unrelated to the population of predators such as lions, based on an analysis of more than a thousand studies conducted around the globe.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true: with more prey, the predators’ numbers actually grow more slowly. While doubling the prey does increase the number of predators, it doesn’t do so to quite the same extend, and in fact tick upward at a diminished rate. This is true for all predators, whether it be a lion prowling the African savanna or a tiny fish in the ocean, according to the report.
The numbers are so predictable that scientists say that simple math can predict the ratio of predators to prey in all ecosystems, indicating the predators and prey relate to each other in the same way no matter what the environment is.
But what is causing this paradoxical pattern? Scientists aren’t sure, but researchers suspect that competition for space may be a problem in animal populations, and not just prey.
But what’s bizarre to scientists is that the same mathematical function can be used in all ecosystems, a consistency that is difficult to explain. In addition, this function cane explain other natural processes, including the reproduction rates of prey species. Removing predators from an ecosystem causes prey populations to increase, but at lower rates.
The explanation for this is a mystery, but it certainly is an exciting new area of research for scientists to look into.