Factors influencing wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) relative abundance in an agriculture-swamp matrix outside protected areas

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Abstract

Human population growth and anthropogenic activities are exacerbating pressures on biodiversity globally. Land conversion is aggravating habitat fragmentation and non-human primates are increasingly compelled to live in forest-agricultural mosaics. In Sierra Leone, more than half of the wild chimpanzee population (Pan troglodytes verus) occurs outside protected areas and competes for resources with farmers. Our study area, in the Moyamba district in south-western Sierra Leone, is practically devoid of forest and is dominated by cultivated and fallow fields, swamps and mangroves. In this region, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture modifies annually the landscape, sparing swamps and mangroves and semi-domesticated oil palms (Elaeis guineensis). This study aimed to explore ecological and anthropogenic factors influencing chimpanzee relative abundance across this highly degraded and human-impacted landscape. Between 2015 and 2016, we deployed 24 camera traps systematically across 27 1.25x1.25 km grid cells. Cameras were operational over a period of 8 months. We used binomial iCAR models to examine to what extent anthropogenic (roads, settlements, abandoned settlements and human presence) and habitat variables (swamps, farmland and mangroves) shape chimpanzee relative abundance. The best model explained 43.16% of the variation with distance to roads and swamps emerging as the best predictors of chimpanzee relative abundance. Our results suggest that chimpanzees avoid roads and prefer to maintain proximity to swamps. There was no significant effect of settlements, abandoned settlements, mangroves or human presence. It appears that chimpanzees do not avoid areas frequented by people; although, our findings suggest temporal avoidance between the two species. We highlight the importance of studying chimpanzee populations living in anthropogenic habitats like agricultural-swamp matrixes to better understand factors influencing their distribution and inform conservation planning outside protected areas.

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Garriga, R. M., Marco, I., Casas-Díaz, E., Acevedo, P., Amarasekaran, B., Cuadrado, L., & Humle, T. (2019). Factors influencing wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) relative abundance in an agriculture-swamp matrix outside protected areas. PLoS ONE, 14(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215545

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