Density responses of lesser-studied carnivores to habitat and management strategies in southern Tanzania's Ruaha-Rungwa landscape


Hardouin M, Searle CE, Strampelli P, Smit J, Dickman A, Lobora AL & Rowcliffe JM (2021) Density responses of lesser-studied carnivores to habitat and management strategies in southern Tanzania's Ruaha-Rungwa landscape. PLoS ONE, 16 (3), Art. No.: e0242293.

Compared to emblematic large carnivores, most species of the order Carnivora receive little conservation attention despite increasing anthropogenic pressure and poor understanding of their status across much of their range. We employed systematic camera trapping and spatially explicit capture-recapture modelling to estimate variation in population density of serval, striped hyaena and aardwolf across the mixed-use Ruaha-Rungwa landscape in southern Tanzania. We selected three sites representative of different habitat types, management strategies, and levels of anthropogenic pressure: Ruaha National Park’s core tourist area, dominated by Acacia-Commiphora bushlands and thickets; the Park’s miombo woodland; and the neighbouring community-run MBOMIPA Wildlife Management Area, also covered in Acacia-Commiphora. The Park’s miombo woodlands supported a higher serval density (5.56 [Standard Error = ±2.45] individuals per 100 km2) than either the core tourist area (3.45 [±1.04] individuals per 100 km2) or the Wildlife Management Area (2.08 [±0.74] individuals per 100 km2). Taken together, precipitation, the abundance of apex predators, and the level of anthropogenic pressure likely drive such variation. Striped hyaena were detected only in the Wildlife Management Area and at low density (1.36 [±0.50] individuals per 100 km2), potentially due to the location of the surveyed sites at the edge of the species’ global range, high densities of sympatric competitors, and anthropogenic edge effects. Finally, aardwolf were captured in both the Park’s core tourist area and the Wildlife Management Area, with a higher density in the Wildlife Management Area (13.25 [±2.48] versus 9.19 [±1.66] individuals per 100 km2), possibly as a result of lower intraguild predation and late fire outbreaks in the area surveyed. By shedding light on three understudied African carnivore species, this study highlights the importance of miombo woodland conservation and community-managed conservation, as well as the value of by-catch camera trap data to improve ecological knowledge of lesser-studied carnivores.

PLoS ONE: Volume 16, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online30/03/2021
Date accepted by journal16/03/2021