Predator prey preferences shape the dynamics of predator–prey assemblages. Understanding the determinants of a predator's prey preferences is therefore important. Trends in prey preferences of the large African predators have been described at a species scale, limiting our ability to assess the influence of prey morphology (size and horns) and predator social structure (sex and sociality) on prey preferences. An analysis of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus kill and prey abundance information from throughout South Africa shows that the presence of prey horns and the type of cheetah social group interact with prey size to influence cheetah prey preference. The size threshold above which prey is avoided by cheetah is lower for horned prey than non-horned prey, providing evidence that horns are a predation deterrent in medium-sized prey. Horned females occur significantly more frequently in antelope species on the cusp of being too large for cheetah predation, supporting the hypothesis that horns evolved as an antipredator defense in the females of medium-sized prey. Male coalition cheetah have access to a broader weight range of prey than solitary cheetah, which may infer fitness benefits by way of expanded resource options. The prey weight range accessible to solitary male cheetah is similar to that accessible to solitary female cheetah, suggesting that, in the absence of cooperative hunting, the slightly larger size of the male cheetah infers no hunting advantage. These findings provide insight into the predation pressures driving the evolutionary selection for large body size and horns in prey, and expanded resource access leading to predator sociality.
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Vol. 97 • No. 3