Apex predators (also known as alpha, super, top or top-level predators) are predators with no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain. Zoologists define predation as the killing and consumption of another organism (which generally excludes parasites and most bacteria). In this context, "apex predator" is usually defined in terms of trophic dynamics. Apex predator species occupy the highest trophic level(s) and have a crucial role in maintaining the health of their ecosystems. One study of marine food webs defined apex predators as greater than trophic level four. The apex predator concept is commonly applied in wildlife management, conservation, and ecotourism.
Food chains are often far shorter on land, with the top of the food chain limited to the third trophic level, as where such predators as the big cats, crocodilians, hyenas, wolves, or giant constrictor snakes prey upon large herbivores. Apex predators do not need to be hypercarnivores. For example, grizzly bears and humans are each apex predators and are omnivores.
Apex predators affect prey species' population dynamics. Where two competing species are in an ecologically unstable relationship, apex predators tend to create stability if they prey upon both. Inter-predator relationships are also affected by apex status. Non-native fish, for example, have been known to devastate formerly dominant predators. One lake manipulation study found that when the non-native smallmouth bass was removed, lake trout, the suppressed native apex predator, diversified its prey selection and increased its trophic level.
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large feline (family Felidae, subfamily Felinae) inhabiting most of Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx. The cheetah can run faster than any other land animal— as fast as 112 to 120 km/h (70 to 75 mph) in short bursts covering distances up to 500 m (1,600 ft), and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to over 100 km/h (62 mph) in five seconds.
This cat is also notable for modifications in the species' paws. It is one of the few felids with semi-retractable claws.