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Possible causes of divergent population trends in sympatric African herbivores

Bennitt, E; Hubel, T Y; Bartlam-Brooks, H L A; Wilson, A M


E Bennitt

T Y Hubel

H L A Bartlam-Brooks

A M Wilson


Sympatric herbivores experience similar environmental conditions but can vary in their population trends. Identifying factors causing these differences could assist conservation efforts aimed at maintaining fully functional ecosystems. From 1996–2013, tsessebe and wildebeest populations in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, declined by 73% and 90%, respectively, whereas zebra populations remained stable. These sympatric, medium sized herbivores are exposed to similar natural and anthropogenic pressures, but apparently differ in their responses to those pressures. To identify factors that could cause these differences, we fitted GPS-enabled collars to six zebra, eight tsessebe and seven wildebeest in the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana. We calculated utilisation distributions (UDs) from GPS data, and used 95% isopleths to compare seasonal home range size between species. We calculated utilisation intensity (UI) from the UDs and generated spatial layers representing resources and disturbances, and then used model averaging to identify factors affecting UI for each species. We calculated second and third order habitat selection ratios to determine whether species were habitat specialists or generalists. Zebra occupied larger home ranges than tsessebe and wildebeest, showed weaker responses to spatial variables and displayed no third order habitat selection; zebra social systems are also more fluid, allowing for information exchange between stable harems. Herbivore species that are sedentary, occupy small home ranges, are habitat specialists and exist in relatively isolated groups are likely to be less resistant and resilient to the rapid pace of environmental change forecast by climate change scenarios. Resources contained within existing protected areas are unlikely to maintain populations of such species at sufficiently high levels, potentially leading to functional extinction. Special precautions may be needed to ensure that such species can persist in the wild, such as buffer zones around existing protected areas, which would allow greater potential for adaptive movement should current environmental conditions change.


Bennitt, E., Hubel, T. Y., Bartlam-Brooks, H. L. A., & Wilson, A. M. (in press). Possible causes of divergent population trends in sympatric African herbivores. PLoS ONE, 14(3), e0213720.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 27, 2019
Deposit Date Mar 19, 2019
Publicly Available Date Mar 20, 2019
Journal PLoS One
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 3
Pages e0213720
Public URL


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