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Tourism can be a powerful tool for wildlife conservation if well controlled and responsibly managed. Apex predators constitute particularly attractive subjects for tourism, but simultaneously they may generate conflict with local communities. Harpy Eagles Harpia harpyja are the largest eagle species and are highly sought-after by ecotourists. The last stronghold of the Harpy Eagle is the Amazon Forest, which is being deforested for cattle ranching. We tested methods for developing Harpy Eagle ecotourism as a potential tool to harmonize these issues. Using camera traps, we collected data on timing of Harpy Eagle visits to their nests, as well as on probabilities of viewing an eagle. Harpy Eagles can only be seen predictably during the first 12 of the 30–36 month nest cycle. In nests with nestlings (up to 5–7 months), adults are visible on a daily basis, and this period lasts 16.6% of the nesting cycle, demanding a minimum of 13, 17, and 26 nests to have at least one nest with a nestling on 90%, 95% and 99% of the days. After this 5–7 month window, we found that two and 4.16 days spent at nests afforded high probabilities of sighting a fledgling or adult eagle, respectively. Harpy Eagles were mainly active at the beginning and the end of the day. Activity core lasted 6.5 decimal hours for adults, peaking at 10h00, and 7.45 decimal hours for fledged eagles, peaking at 15h00. Our results demonstrate that Harpy Eagles fit several criteria for a viable wildlife attraction: predictable in activity and location, viewable, and diurnal, even though at the same time they are considered a rarity. In a broader perspective, Harpy Eagle tourism shows every indication of being a significant tool for more robust rainforest conservation.
Documenting phylogenetic diversity for conservation practice allows elucidation of ecosystem functioning and processes by highlighting the commonality and divergence of species’ functional traits within their evolutionary context. Conserving distinct evolutionary histories has intrinsic value, and the conservation of phylogenetically diverse communities is more likely to preserve distinct or relic evolutionary lineages. We explored the potential for anthropogenic forest fragmentation to act as a selective filter of avian phylogenetic diversity within the community of forest-dependent birds of the critically endangered Indian Ocean Coastal Belt Forest (IOCBF), South Africa. We conducted avian point count surveys during the austral breeding season, and calculated fragmentation metrics of forest structural complexity, patch size and isolation. We constructed a maximum likelihood phylogeny using the combined analysis of two mitochondrial genes and three nuclear markers and measured the influence of the fragmentation metrics on six measures of phylogenetic diversity. Our results indicated that the avian community was variously affected by anthropogenic forest fragmentation, with the different metrics of phylogenetic diversity responding with no definitive overall pattern. However, forest structural complexity emerged as an important metric explaining phylogenetic structuring. While the avian community’s phylogenetic diversity displayed resilience to anthropogenic fragmentation, previous research showed a reduction in functional diversity along the fragmentation gradient. Therefore, we recommend studies that especially aim to guide conservation management, incorporate both phylogenetic and functional diversity measures to sufficiently interrogate communities’ resilience to the threats under investigation.
Establishing the specific habitat requirements of forest specialists in fragmented natural habitats is vital for their conservation. We used camera-trap surveys and microhabitat-scale covariates to assess the habitat requirements, probability of occupancy and detection of two terrestrial forest specialist species, the Orange Ground-thrush Geokichla gurneyi and the Lemon Dove Aplopelia larvata during the breeding and non-breeding seasons of 2018–2019 in selected Southern Mistbelt Forests of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, South Africa. A series of camera-trap surveys over 21 days were conducted in conjunction with surveys of microhabitat structural covariates. During the wet season, percentage of leaf litter cover, short grass cover, short herb cover, tall herb cover and saplings 0–2 m, stem density of trees 6–10 m and trees 16–20 m were significant structural covariates for influencing Lemon Dove occupancy. In the dry season, stem density of 2–5 m and 10–15 m trees, percentage tall herb cover, short herb cover and 0–2 m saplings were significant covariates influencing Lemon Dove occupancy. Stem density of trees 2–5 m and 11–15 m, percentage of short grass cover and short herb cover were important site covariates influencing Orange Ground-thrush occupancy in the wet season. Our study highlighted the importance of a diverse habitat structure for both forest species. A high density of tall/mature trees was an essential microhabitat covariate, particularly for sufficient cover and food for these ground-dwelling birds. Avian forest specialists play a vital role in providing ecosystem services perpetuating forest habitat functioning. Conservation of the natural heterogeneity of their habitat is integral to management plans to prevent the decline of such species.
The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus is a habitat specialist, restricted to forest patches in the Eastern Cape (EC), KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Limpopo provinces of South Africa. Recent census estimates suggest that there are less than 1,600 parrots left in the wild, although historical data suggest that the species was once more numerous. Fragmentation of the forest biome is strongly linked to climate change and exploitation of the forest by the timber industry. We examine the subpopulation structure and connectivity between fragmented populations across the distribution of the species. Differences in historical and contemporary genetic structure of Cape Parrots is examined by including both modern samples, collected from 1951 to 2014, and historical samples, collected from 1870 to 1946. A total of 114 individuals (historical = 29; contemporary = 85) were genotyped using 16 microsatellite loci. We tested for evidence of partitioning of genotypes at both a temporal and spatial scales by comparing shifts in allelic frequencies of historical (1870–1946) and contemporary (1951–2014) samples across the distribution of the species. Tests for population bottlenecks were also conducted to determine if anthropogenic causes are the main driver of population decline in this species. Analyses identified three geographically correlated genetic clusters. A southern group restricted to forest patches in the EC, a central group including birds from KZN and a genetically distinct northern Limpopo cluster. Results suggest that Cape Parrots have experienced at least two population bottlenecks. An ancient decline during the mid-Holocene (∼ 1,800-3,000 years before present) linked to climate change, and a more recent bottleneck, associated with logging of forests during the early 1900s. This study highlights the effects of climate change and human activities on an endangered species associated with the naturally fragmented forests of eastern South Africa. These results will aid conservation authorities with the planning and implementation of future conservation initiatives. In particular, this study emphasises the Eastern Cape mistbelt forests as an important source population for the species and calls for stronger conservation of forest patches in South Africa to promote connectivity of forest taxa.
Declines in Old World vulture populations have been linked to anthropogenic pressures. To assess these threats, the social dimensions of vulture conservation must be explored. Prior research in Africa focused on commercial farmers’ perceptions of vultures and identified that small stock farmers used poison more than large stock farmers to deter livestock predators. However, the vulnerable Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres breeds throughout communal farmland in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Consequently, community interviews were conducted within the foraging range of the Msikaba Cape Vulture colony, separating regions according to the amount of transformed land. Residents in the least transformed land region perceived the smallest reductions in livestock ownership over the past ten years, while residents of the moderately transformed region perceived the greatest reductions in livestock ownership. Livestock carcasses were reported to be available for vultures at ‘informal vulture restaurants’. Arrangement of livestock carcasses was found to be independent of land use; however type of carcass consumed varied. None of the respondents stated they used poison to eliminate livestock predators. More respondents cited illegal poaching of vultures for traditional medicine as a threat, although the majority stated that vultures benefited the community.
The behavioural use of rock crevices by rock hyrax Procavia capensis was essential in avoiding harsh environmental conditions during summer. Foraging was the most dominant above-ground behaviour exhibited by rock hyrax during summer. Most ambient temperatures in the early morning of summer fell within the rock hyrax thermoneutral zone, which enabled the animals to forage without the need for prior heating from a solar energy source. Basking was an essential behaviour displayed by rock hyrax in winter. The low quality and scarce food source may be inadequate to meet the metabolic requirements of rock hyrax at low ambient temperatures. It therefore seems that basking is not only an energy conservation mechanism but also essential for the survival of rock hyrax during winter. Juvenile rock hyrax have a higher surface area to volume ratio and are more vulnerable to low ambient conditions than adults. As a result they displayed a different behaviour pattern to adult rock hyrax during winter. Juveniles required larger amounts of food to meet their energetic requirements, while adults spent greater amounts of time basking. The extent to which rock hyrax meet energetic requirements depends on the interaction of ambient temperature, food availability, food quality and foraging efficiency in the presence of predators. The extent to which each of these factors influenced behaviour differed on a daily and seasonal basis.
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