Feeding Specialization of Honey Badgers in the Sahara Desert: A Trial of Life in a Hard Environment
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AuthorGil Sánchez, José María
Arid environmentsExploitative competenceFeeding ecologyMellivora capensisUromastyx genus
Gil-Sánchez, J. M., Herrera-Sánchez, F. J., Rodríguez-Siles, J., Sáez, J. M., Díaz-Portero, M. Á., Arredondo, Á., ... & McCain, E. (2020). Feeding Specialization of Honey Badgers in the Sahara Desert: A Trial of Life in a Hard Environment. Diversity, 12(2), 59.
SponsorshipThis research was partially funded by Fundación Barcelona Zoo grant number PRIC 2017.
The honey badger (Mellivora capensis) is a medium-sized carnivore distributed throughout Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Turkmenistan, and India. However, available information on its ecology is very scarce. We studied its feeding ecology in the remote north-western Sahara Desert, based on the contents of 125 fecal samples collected during large scale surveys. Samples were confirmed to belong to honey badgers by camera trapping and genetic analyses. Barely 18 prey species were detected. The diet primarily consisted of spiny-tailed lizards Uromastyx nigriventris and U. dispar (72% of volume in scats). Secondary prey items were arthropods (14%), small mammals (8%), other reptiles (4%), and eggs (0.8%). Some small geographic and temporal differences were related to the consumption of beetle larvae and rodents as alternative prey. Camera trapping and distance sampling surveys showed that diel activities did not overlap between honey badgers and spiny-tailed lizards, suggesting that badgers primarily dig lizards out of their burrows when inactive. Consumption of spiny lizards by other sympatric meso-carnivores was < 6.1% of occurrence (223 analyzed scats); the honey badger behaved as a trophic specialist in the Sahara, probably thanks to exclusive anatomical adaptations for digging. We discuss the role of this circumstance minimizing the exploitative competition, which could allow the survival of this large mustelid in this low productive and highly competitive environment.