Demographic drivers of a refugee species: Large-scale experiments guide strategies for reintroductions of hirola

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Abstract

Effective reintroduction strategies require accurate estimates of vital rates and the factors that influence them. The hirola (Beatragus hunteri) is the rarest antelope on Earth, with a global population size of <500 individuals restricted to the Kenya-Somali border. We estimated vital rates of hirola populations exposed to varying levels of predation and rangeland quality from 2012 to 2015, and then built population matrices to estimate the finite rate of population change (λ) and demographic sensitivities. Mean survival for all age classes and population growth was highest in the low-predation-high-rangeland-quality setting (λ = 1.08 ± 0.03 [mean ± SE]), and lowest in the high-predation-low-rangeland-quality setting (λ = 0.70 ± 0.22). Retrospective demographic analyses revealed that increased fecundity (the number of female calves born to adult females annually) and female calf survival were responsible for higher population growth where large carnivores were absent. In contrast, variation in adult female survival was the primary contributor to differences in population growth attributable to rangeland quality. Our analyses suggest that hirola demography is driven by a combination of top-down (predation) and bottom-up (rangeland quality) forces, with populations in the contemporary geographic range impacted both by declining rangeland quality and predation. To enhance the chances of successful reintroductions, conservationists can consider rangeland restoration to boost both the survival and fecundity of adult females within the hirola's historical range.

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Ali, A. H., Kauffman, M. J., Amin, R., Kibara, A., King, J., Mallon, D., … Goheen, J. R. (2018). Demographic drivers of a refugee species: Large-scale experiments guide strategies for reintroductions of hirola. Ecological Applications, 28(2), 275–283. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1664

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