#### Today I’m excited to bring you a guest post by UMN undergraduate Peter Williams. Peter conducted independent research in the Lion Lab through the University of Minnesota’s directed research program, helping to identify and process some of the early images from the camera trapping survey. You’ll likely see Peter on Talk from time to time. ###
One of my favorite animals of the Serengeti is the aardwolf. This little-known relative of hyenas has an extremely specialized diet—it mostly eats one genus of termite. Aardwolves, about the size of a fox, are not the toughest carnivores. Some other carnivores, such as lions, have been reported to kill aardwolves, and parent aardwolves guard their burrows to prevent jackals from eating their cubs. I wanted to know if the threat of a jackal attack affected aardwolves. Did aardwolves avoid jackals by living in different areas? Or by being active at different times?
To dive into this, I first compiled the camera trap sightings for aardwolves and jackals in a spreadsheet. Each sighting contains tons of information, such as time of day the sighting was taken, distance to the nearest river, how many trees in the area, what the grass cover was like, etc. I made graphs comparing aardwolf sighting to all of these different factors and looked to see if there were any trends. Then I did the same with jackal sightings. Most factors showed no correlation, but there were a few trends that stood out.
One pattern that was extremely clear was nocturnal behavior in aardwolves. Over 90% of the aardwolf sightings occurred between 7:00 pm and 6:00 am. Jackals, on the other hand, were active all day, with a drop in sightings around the heat of the day. It is unlikely that jackals have an effect on when aardwolves are active, especially because the termites that make up the bulk of an aardwolf’s diet only leave the mound at night.
Later, I tried comparing data between the wet season and dry season. For the aardwolves, there was almost no change in where or when they were active. Jackals in the dry season spent a lot of time in grassy areas that weren’t too arid—the same types of places aardwolves live. In the wet season jackals spread out into drier and more open spaces that are less habitable in the dry season. It makes sense that aardwolves would stay put, given how dependent they are on termites. The movement of jackal between seasons, though, is quite interesting.
To answer my original questions, the presence of jackals doesn’t appear to have a noticeable effect on aardwolf behavior, nor do aardwolves seem to avoid jackals. However, the jackals moving into aardwolf territory in the dry season and back out to more open spaces in the wet season is a fascinating trend that I want to look into more. I didn’t find what I expected, but trying to find answers always leads to more questions.