Climatic and Resource Determinants of Forest Elephant Movements


Beirne C, Meier AC, Brumagin G, Jasperse-Sjolander L, Lewis M, Masseloux J, Myers K, Fay M, Okouyi J, White LJT & Poulsen JR (2020) Climatic and Resource Determinants of Forest Elephant Movements. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 8, Art. No.: 96.

As a keystone megafaunal species, African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) influence the structure and composition of tropical forests. Determining the links between food resources, environmental conditions and elephant movement behavior is crucial to understanding their habitat requirements and their effects on the ecosystem, particularly in the face of poaching and global change. We investigate whether fruit abundance or climate most strongly influence forest elephant movement behavior at the landscape scale in Gabon. Trained teams of “elephant trackers” performed daily fruit availability and dietary composition surveys over a year within two relatively pristine and intact protected areas. With data from 100 in-depth field follows of 28 satellite-collared elephants and remotely sensed environmental layers, we use linear mixed-effects models to assess the effects of sites, seasons, focal elephant identification, elephant diet, and fruit availability on elephant movement behavior at monthly and 3-day time scales. At the month-level, rainfall, and to a lesser extent fruit availability, most strongly predicted the proportion of time elephants spent in long, directionally persistent movements. Thus, even elephants in moist tropical rainforests show seasonal behavioral phenotypes linked to rainfall. At the follow-level (2–4 day intervals), relative support for both rainfall and fruit availability decreased markedly, suggesting that at finer spatial scales forest elephants make foraging decisions largely based on other factors not directly assessed here. Focal elephant identity explained the majority of the variance in the data, and there was strong support for interindividual variation in behavioral responses to rainfall. Taken together, this highlights the importance of approaches which follow individuals through space and time. The links between climate, resource availability and movement behavior provide important insights into the behavioral ecology of forest elephants that can contribute to understanding their role as seed dispersers, improving management of populations, and informing development of solutions to human-elephant conflict.

behavior; path segmentation; resource availability; human-elephant conflict; individual variation

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution: Volume 8

FundersAgence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux
Publication date30/04/2020
Publication date online17/04/2020
Date accepted by journal26/03/2020