Wild ungulate decision-making and the role of tiny refuges in human-dominated landscapes

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Abstract

Wildlife conservation in human-dominated landscapes requires that we understand how animals, when making habitat-use decisions, obtain diverse and dynamically occurring resources while avoiding risks, induced by both natural predators and anthropogenic threats. Little is known about the underlying processes that enable wild animals to persist in densely populated human-dominated landscapes, particularly in developing countries. In a complex, semi-arid, fragmented, human-dominated agricultural landscape, we analyzed the habitat-use of blackbuck, a large herbivore endemic to the Indian sub-continent. We hypothesized that blackbuck would show flexible habitat-use behaviour and be risk averse when resource quality in the landscape is high, and less sensitive to risk otherwise. Overall, blackbuck appeared to be strongly influenced by human activity and they offset risks by using small protected patches (∼3 km2) when they could afford to do so. Blackbuck habitat use varied dynamically corresponding with seasonally-changing levels of resources and risks, with protected habitats registering maximum use. The findings show that human activities can strongly influence and perhaps limit ungulate habitat-use and behaviour, but spatial heterogeneity in risk, particularly the presence of refuges, can allow ungulates to persist in landscapes with high human and livestock densities.

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Krishna, Y. C., Kumar, A., & Isvaran, K. (2016). Wild ungulate decision-making and the role of tiny refuges in human-dominated landscapes. PLoS ONE, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151748

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