1. Although interspecific competition plays a principle role in shaping species behaviour and demography, little is known about the population-level outcomes of competition between large carnivores, and the mechanisms that facilitate coexistence.
2. We conducted a multi-landscape analysis of two widely distributed, threatened large carnivore competitors to offer insight into coexistence strategies and assist with species-level conservation.
3. We evaluated how interference competition affects occupancy, temporal activity and population density of a dominant competitor, the lion (Panthera leo), and its subordinate competitor, the leopard (Panthera pardus). We collected camera-trap data over three years in ten study sites covering 5,070 km2. We used multispecies occupancy modelling to assess spatial responses in varying environmental and prey conditions and competitor presence, and examined temporal overlap and the relationship between lion and leopard densities across sites and years.
4. Results showed that both lion and leopard occupancy was independent of – rather than conditional on – their competitor’s presence across all environmental covariates. Marginal occupancy probability for leopard was higher in areas with more bushy, ‘hideable’ habitat, human (tourist) activity and topographic ruggedness, whereas lion occupancy decreased with increasing hideable habitat and increased with higher abundance of very large prey. Temporal overlap was high between carnivores and there was no significant relationship between species densities.
4. Lions pose a threat to the survival of individual leopards, but they exerted no tractable influence on leopard spatial or temporal dynamics. Furthermore, lions did not appear to suppress leopard populations, suggesting that intraguild competitors can coexist in the same areas without population decline. Aligned conservation strategies that promote functioning ecosystems, rather than target individual species, are therefore suggested to achieve cost- and space-effective conservation.