Anthropogenic effects on site use and temporal patterns of terrestrial mammals in Harenna Forest, Ethiopia

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Virginia Tech

There has been little research comprehensively documenting wildlife species in Harenna Forest within the Bale Mountains National Park of Ethiopia. This area is one of the few remaining afro-alpine biodiversity hotspots and is home to numerous endemic plants and animals and offers socio-economic benefits to the neighboring communities. Human population pressure, weak land protection policies, and uncertain land tenure rights have led to increases in farmland for subsistence and coffee farming, livestock grazing, and reduction of afro-alpine, shrubland and grassland habitats. Given these challenges, I used 48 camera trap stations to produce an inventory of wildlife species and to determine factors influencing occupancy (i.e., habitat use), detection, and temporal activity and overlap. I recorded 26 terrestrial and arboreal mammalian species and I had sufficient data to model occupancy for 13 species and temporal activity for 14 species. Occupancy and detection were generally higher for herbivores and omnivores (occupancy: 0.28-0.97; detection: 0.1-0.54) than carnivores (occupancy: 0.31-0.80; detection: 0.04-0.18). I found more evidence of positive anthropogenic impacts on herbivore and omnivore occupancy than negative, while detection was influenced by habitat or landscape features, rather than by humans. Carnivore occupancy was largely unaffected by anthropogenic or habitat variables, but detection was strongly, and mostly positively, influenced by anthropogenic impacts. Temporal activity analyses revealed that, for herbivores and omnivores, only tree hyraxes (Dendrohyrax arboreus) and crested porcupines (Hystrix cristata) were nocturnal, Menelik bushbucks (Tragelaphus scriptus meneliki) were crepuscular, and the remaining species ranged from diurnal to cathemeral. Neither similar body size nor similar diet affected overlap between species pairs. However, overlap with human temporal activity was low for Menelik bushbucks (Δ=0.45) and common duikers (Sylvicapra grimmia) appeared to become less active at stations with high human use. For carnivores, leopards (Panthera pardus) and honey badgers (Mellivora capensis) were crepuscular, and the remaining species were nocturnal. I found evidence that carnivores overlapped less when they were more similar in body size to other carnivores (average Δ=0.67-0.71) compared to species more dissimilar in body size (average Δ=0.75), although there was variation across species. In general, carnivores overlapped much less with humans (average Δ=0.20) than did herbivores (average Δ=0.52) and omnivores (average Δ=0.43). Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), in particular, appeared to alter activity to reduce overlap with humans. This study provides baseline information on presence, distribution, and activity of large- and medium-sized terrestrial and arboreal mammals in an understudied biodiversity hotspot. My findings are concerning for biodiversity conservation as rare and endangered species (e.g., mountain nyalas (Tragelaphus buxtoni), Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis)) were rarely or never photographed, and larger carnivores (e.g., lions (Panthera leo), leopards, jackals), generally had low capture rates. The species with higher capture rates, occupancy, and activity tended to be those that can tolerate or take advantage of human activity and disturbance. Species sensitive to human disturbance eventually may be lost unless measures can be put in place to reduce human impacts. This baseline knowledge is important for future studies examining trends in mammalian wildlife populations, such as site extinction and colonization, or changes in overlap with humans, in a landscape that is continuing to experience human-caused, landscape change.

anthropogenic, detection, camera-traps, Ethiopia, Harenna Forest, occupancy, carnivores, Kernel Density Estimation (KDE), overlap, ungulates