Monitoring and Conserving Wildlife Communities across Northern Botswana

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Virginia Tech

To develop effective conservation planning and mitigate biodiversity loss, standardized metrics for monitoring and assessing biodiversity are needed. This information is particularly vital in Botswana, where knowledge of many of the diverse wildlife populations is lacking. To address this knowledge gap, my dissertation research evaluated the distributions, densities, and ecology of the wildlife community in northern Botswana, with a focus on terrestrial carnivore species given their importance both ecologically and economically. My objectives were threefold: 1) estimate the distributions of the mammal community (n = 44 species) and evaluate community, group, and species-specific responses to anthropogenic and environmental variables, 2) test whether the presence of intraguild species or resource availability had a larger influence on the seasonal distributions of carnivore species, and 3) simultaneously estimate the population densities of 7 carnivore species. To accomplish these objectives, I completed a multi-year camera trap survey in a 1,154-km2 study area and analyzed the data using occupancy models (single and multi- species) and spatially explicit capture-recapture models. Estimates of species richness ranged from 8 to 27 unique species, species had a mean occurrence probability of 0.32 (95% credible interval = 0.21–0.45), and estimated densities ranged from 1.8 aardwolves (Proteles cristata) to 12.7 spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) per 100 km2. The occupancy and richness of terrestrial mammals was negatively associated with human disturbance and in general, positively associated with open grasslands/floodplains. Carnivore species, specifically, tended to have greater species richness and larger population densities in open habitats than in closed. I also found carnivore distributions were positively associated with the detection rate of intraguild competitors and predators, suggesting competitor/predator avoidance did not play a large role in shaping carnivore community structure. My research highlights the pivotal role protected areas and grasslands play in conserving wildlife populations in northern Botswana. Additionally, my research helps progress camera trap analyses from single to multi-species assessments. Broader application of this multi-species approach would likely result in a better understanding of wildlife and carnivore communities which in turn, may help inform management actions aimed at addressing the loss of wildlife populations globally.

camera trap, carnivore, multispecies modelling, population density, species richness