Because of the high, albeit seasonal, availability of carcasses, the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, Kenya, has a high diversity of scavengers, leading to considerable competition between species. From patterns of occurrence of vultures at 163 carcasses over an 8-year period in the Masai Mara National Reserve, we were able to identify some mechanisms that may reduce competition. Species are associated on the basis of similar dietary needs and beak morphology, and they are highly interdependent, showing little evidence of disassociation. Social vultures (genus Gyps) dominated the vulture scene at the reserve; they were more abundant at carcasses when migratory ungulates were present in the dry season, when more carcasses are likely to be available, than when migratory ungulates were absent. In addition, regardless of the predator's identity, presence of a predator reduced the number of vultures, suggesting that vultures prefer carrion not killed by predators where available. Comparisons between past and current counts of carcasses suggest a substantial shift in Gyps vultures with an increase in the relative abundance of Rüppell's Vulture (G. rueppellii) with respect to that of the White-backed Vulture (G. africanus). In addition, our findings suggest that as changing land use in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem leads to reductions of large ungulates, social vultures will be the most adversely affected.
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Vol. 114 • No. 3