Large carnivores are key drivers of ecosystem structure and function, yet their populations are declining worldwide. African lion (Panthera leo) populations have decreased significantly in recent decades with an estimated 23 000 lions left in Africa. Successful conservation efforts rely on a sound understanding of how animals utilize their surrounding habitat. We used movement data from GPS collars to investigate patterns and drivers of seasonal space use by free-roaming lions in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GM-TFCA). We developed individual and population-level resource utilization functions (RUF) from 2008 to 2015. RUFs relate non-uniform space use within a home range to landscape metrics in a multiple regression framework. We identified six landscape features hypothesized a priori to be good predictors of lion space use: land use, land cover, elevation, terrain ruggedness, distance to human settlements and rivers. Only elevation during the dry season was a significant factor detected for lion space use ( ± S.E.) (-0.278 ± 0.107, CI = -0.4881, -0.0676). Across seasons, lions varied in their avoidance of human settlements, but 12 of 18 (67%) individuals selected areas within their home ranges that were farther from human settlements. Lions moved randomly across the landscape independent of vegetation type regardless of season. In season-specific analyses, some lions avoided human settlements (dry season: 45%, [n = 10] utilized areas farther from settlements; wet season: 50% [n = 9]). The lack of avoidance of settlements by some lions in our study also confirms that individual variation among lions can lead to human—wildlife conflicts. Perhaps the most critical observation from our study is that individual lions acted very differently as they used the landscape, which suggests the need for management plans to be landscape and case-specific.
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Vol. 48 • No. 2