Tame behaviour, i.e. low wariness, in terrestrial island species is often attributed to low predation pressure. However, we know little about its physiological control and its flexibility in the face of predator introductions. Marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on the Galápagos Islands are a good model to study the physiological correlates of low wariness. They have lived virtually without predation for 5–15 Myr until some populations were first confronted with feral cats and dogs some 150 years ago. We tested whether and to what extent marine iguanas can adjust their behaviour and endocrine stress response to novel predation threats. Here, we show that a corticosterone stress response to experimental chasing is absent in naive animals, but is quickly restored with experience. Initially, low wariness also increases with experience, but remains an order of magnitude too low to allow successful escape from introduced predators. Our data suggest that the ability of marine iguanas to cope with predator introductions is limited by narrow reaction norms for behavioural wariness rather than by constraints in the underlying physiological stress system. In general, we predict that island endemics show flexible physiological stress responses but are restricted by narrow behavioural plasticity.
anti-predator behaviour; wariness; corticosterone stress response; island endemic; introduced predator; Galápagos
Although glucocorticoid hormones are considered important physiological regulators for surviving adverse environmental stimuli (stressors), evidence for such a role is sparse and usually extrapolated from glucocorticoid effects under laboratory, short-term and/or non-emergency conditions. Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) provide an excellent model for determining the ultimate function of a glucocorticoid response because susceptibility to starvation induced by El Niño conditions is essentially their only major natural stressor. In a prospective study, we captured 98 adult male marine iguanas and assessed four major components of their glucocorticoid response: baseline corticosterone titres; corticosterone responses to acute stressors (capture and handling); the maximal capacity to secrete corticosterone (via adrenocorticotropin injection); and the ability to terminate corticosterone responses (negative feedback). Several months after collecting initial measurements, weak El Niño conditions affected the Galápagos and 23 iguanas died. The dead iguanas were typified by a reduced efficacy of negative feedback (i.e. poorer post-stress suppression of corticosterone release) compared with surviving iguanas. We found no prior differences between dead and alive iguanas in baseline corticosterone concentrations, responses to acute stressors, nor in capacity to respond. These data suggest that a greater ability to terminate a stress response conferred a survival advantage during starvation.
stress; dexamethasone; adrenocorticotropin
Marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) inhabit the coastlines of large and small islands throughout the Galápagos archipelago, providing a rich system to study the spatial and temporal factors influencing the phylogeographic distribution and population structure of a species. Here, we analyze the microevolution of marine iguanas using the complete mitochondrial control region (CR) as well as 13 microsatellite loci representing more than 1200 individuals from 13 islands.
CR data show that marine iguanas occupy three general clades: one that is widely distributed across the northern archipelago, and likely spread from east to west by way of the South Equatorial current, a second that is found mostly on the older eastern and central islands, and a third that is limited to the younger northern and western islands. Generally, the CR haplotype distribution pattern supports the colonization of the archipelago from the older, eastern islands to the younger, western islands. However, there are also signatures of recurrent, historical gene flow between islands after population establishment. Bayesian cluster analysis of microsatellite genotypes indicates the existence of twenty distinct genetic clusters generally following a one-cluster-per-island pattern. However, two well-differentiated clusters were found on the easternmost island of San Cristóbal, while nine distinct and highly intermixed clusters were found on youngest, westernmost islands of Isabela and Fernandina. High mtDNA and microsatellite genetic diversity were observed for populations on Isabela and Fernandina that may be the result of a recent population expansion and founder events from multiple sources.
While a past genetic study based on pure FST analysis suggested that marine iguana populations display high levels of nuclear (but not mitochondrial) gene flow due to male-biased dispersal, the results of our sex-biased dispersal tests and the finding of strong genetic differentiation between islands do not support this view. Therefore, our study is a nice example of how recently developed analytical tools such as Bayesian clustering analysis and DNA sequence-based demographic analyses can overcome potential biases introduced by simply relying on FST estimates from markers with different inheritance patterns.
Herbivorous reptiles depend on complex gut microbial communities to effectively degrade dietary polysaccharides. The composition of these fermentative communities may vary based on dietary differences. To explore the role of diet in shaping gut microbial communities, we evaluated the fecal samples from two related host species—the algae-consuming marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and land iguanas (LI) (genus Conolophus) that consume terrestrial vegetation. Marine and LI fecal samples were collected from different islands in the Galápagos archipelago. High-throughput 16S rRNA-based pyrosequencing was used to provide a comparative analysis of fecal microbial diversity. At the phylum level, the fecal microbial community in iguanas was predominated by Firmicutes (69.5±7.9%) and Bacteroidetes (6.2±2.8%), as well as unclassified Bacteria (20.6±8.6%), suggesting that a large portion of iguana fecal microbiota is novel and could be involved in currently unknown functions. Host species differed in the abundance of specific bacterial groups. Bacteroides spp., Lachnospiraceae and Clostridiaceae were significantly more abundant in the marine iguanas (MI) (P-value>1E−9). In contrast, Ruminococcaceae were present at >5-fold higher abundance in the LI than MI (P-value>6E−14). Archaea were only detected in the LI. The number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in the LI (356–896 OTUs) was >2-fold higher than in the MI (112–567 OTUs), and this increase in OTU diversity could be related to the complexity of the resident bacterial population and their gene repertoire required to breakdown the recalcitrant polysaccharides prevalent in terrestrial plants. Our findings suggest that dietary differences contribute to gut microbial community differentiation in herbivorous lizards. Most importantly, this study provides a better understanding of the microbial diversity in the iguana gut; therefore facilitating future efforts to discover novel bacterial-associated enzymes that can effectively breakdown a wide variety of complex polysaccharides.
Galápagos iguanas; fecal microbiota; 16S rRNA-based pyrosequencing; dietary differences
A central question for ecologists is the extent to which anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. tourism) might impact wildlife and affect the systems under study. From a research perspective, identifying the effects of human disturbance caused by research-related activities is crucial in order to understand and account for potential biases and derive appropriate conclusions from the data.
Here, we document a case of biological adjustment to chronic human disturbance in a colonial seabird, the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), breeding on remote and protected islands of the Southern ocean. Using heart rate (HR) as a measure of the stress response, we show that, in a colony with areas exposed to the continuous presence of humans (including scientists) for over 50 years, penguins have adjusted to human disturbance and habituated to certain, but not all, types of stressors. When compared to birds breeding in relatively undisturbed areas, birds in areas of high chronic human disturbance were found to exhibit attenuated HR responses to acute anthropogenic stressors of low-intensity (i.e. sounds or human approaches) to which they had been subjected intensely over the years. However, such attenuation was not apparent for high-intensity stressors (i.e. captures for scientific research) which only a few individuals experience each year.
Habituation to anthropogenic sounds/approaches could be an adaptation to deal with chronic innocuous stressors, and beneficial from a research perspective. Alternately, whether penguins have actually habituated to anthropogenic disturbances over time or whether human presence has driven the directional selection of human-tolerant phenotypes, remains an open question with profound ecological and conservation implications, and emphasizes the need for more knowledge on the effects of human disturbance on long-term studied populations.
Stress; Heart rate; Habituation; Selection; Seabird; Human disturbance; Long-term monitoring
The ability to recognize and respond to the alarm calls of heterospecifics has previously been described only in species with vocal communication. Here we provide evidence that a non-vocal reptile, the Galápagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), can eavesdrop on the alarm call of the Galápagos mockingbird (Nesomimus parvulus) and respond with anti-predator behaviour. Eavesdropping on complex heterospecific communications demonstrates a remarkable degree of auditory discrimination in a non-vocal species.
eavesdropping; heterospecific recognition; animal communication; marine iguanas
Although the cost of mate choice is an essential component of the evolution and maintenance of sexual selection, the energetic cost of female choice has not previously been assessed directly. Here we report that females can incur high energetic costs as a result of discriminating among potential mates. We used heart rate biologging to quantify energetic expenditure in lek-mating female Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Receptive females spent 78.9±23.2 kJ of energy on mate choice over a 30-day period, which is equivalent to ∼¾ of one day's energy budget. Females that spent more time on the territories of high-quality, high-activity males displayed greater energetic expenditure on mate choice, lost more mass, and showed a trend towards producing smaller follicles. Choosy females also appear to face a reduced probability of survival if El Niño conditions occur in the year following breeding. These findings indicate that female choice can carry significant costs, and suggest that the benefits that lek-mating females gain through mating with a preferred male may be higher than previously predicted.
Understanding the evolutionary consequences of anthropogenic change is an emerging topic in evolutionary biology. While highly sensitive species may go extinct in response to anthropogenic habitat alteration, those with broader environmental tolerances may persist and adapt to the changes. Here, we use morphological data from the brown anole (Anolis sagrei), a lizard species that lives in both natural and human-disturbed habitats, to examine the impact of anthropogenic habitat alteration. We find populations inhabiting disturbed habitats were significantly larger in snout-vent length, hindspan, and mass and provide evidence that the observed divergence in hindspan is driven by human-induced changes in habitat structure. Populations were found to be genetically distinct among islands but are not genetically differentiated between habitat types on islands. Thus, the observed pattern of intra-island morphological differences cannot be explained by separate founding populations. Rather, our results are consistent with morphological differences between habitats having arisen in situ on each island. Results underscore the significant impact anthropogenic change may have on evolutionary trajectories of populations that persist in human-altered habitats.
Anolis lizards; anthropogenic change; habitat structure; island; selection
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major source of climatic disturbance, impacting the dynamics of ecosystems worldwide. Recent models predict that human-generated rises in green-house gas levels will cause an increase in the strength and frequency of El Niño warming events in the next several decades, highlighting the need to understand the potential biological consequences of increased ENSO activity. Studies have focused on the ecological and demographic implications of El Niño in a range of organisms, but there have been few systematic attempts to measure the impact of these processes on genetic diversity in populations. Here, we evaluate whether the 1997–1998 El Niño altered the genetic composition of Galápagos marine iguana populations from eleven islands, some of which experienced mortality rates of up to 90% as a result of El Niño warming. Specifically, we measured the temporal variation in microsatellite allele frequencies and mitochondrial DNA diversity (mtDNA) in samples collected before (1991/1993) and after (2004) the El Niño event. Based on microsatellite data, only one island (Marchena) showed signatures of a genetic bottleneck, where the harmonic mean of the effective population size (Ne) was estimated to be less than 50 individuals during the period between samplings. Substantial decreases in mtDNA variation between time points were observed in populations from just two islands (Marchena and Genovesa). Our results suggests that, for the majority of islands, a single, intense El Niño event did not reduce marine iguana populations to the point where substantial neutral genetic diversity was lost. In the case of Marchena, simultaneous changes to both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation may also be the result of a volcanic eruption on the island in 1991. Therefore, studies that seek to evaluate the genetic impact of El Niño must also consider the confounding or potentially synergistic effect of other environmental and biological forces shaping populations.
The urban environment presents new and different challenges to wildlife, but also potential opportunities depending on the species. As urban encroachment onto native habitats continues, understanding the impact of this expansion on native species is vital to conservation. A key physiological indicator of environmental disturbance is the vertebrate stress response, involving increases in circulating glucocorticoids (i.e., corticosterone), which exert influence on numerous physiological parameters including energy storage, reproduction, and immunity. We examined how urbanization in Phoenix, Arizona influences corticosterone levels, blood parasitism, and innate immunity in populations of tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus) to determine whether urbanization may be detrimental or beneficial to this species. Both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone concentrations were significantly lower in urban lizards relative to the rural ones, however, the magnitude of the increase in corticosterone with stress did not differ across populations. Urban lizards also had a lower ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes, but elevated overall leukocyte count, as compared to lizards from the natural site. Urban and rural lizards did not differ in their prevalence of the blood parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum. Taken together, these results suggest that urban tree lizards may have suppressed overall corticosterone concentrations possibly from down-regulation as a result of frequent exposure to stressors, or increased access to urban resources. Also, urban lizards may have bolstered immunocompetence possibly from increased immune challenges, such as wounding, in the urban environment, or from greater energetic reserves being available as a result of access to urban resources.
disturbance; corticosterone; leukocytes; urbanization; parasites
Anthropogenic disturbances intertwined with climatic changes can have a large impact on the upper trophic levels of marine ecosystems, which may cascade down the food web. So far it has been difficult to demonstrate multi-level trophic cascades in pelagic marine environments. Using field data collected during a 33-year period, we show for the first time a four-level community-wide trophic cascade in the open Baltic Sea. The dramatic reduction of the cod (Gadus morhua) population directly affected its main prey, the zooplanktivorous sprat (Sprattus sprattus), and indirectly the summer biomass of zooplankton and phytoplankton (top-down processes). Bottom-up processes and climate–hydrological forces had a weaker influence on sprat and zooplankton, whereas phytoplankton variation was explained solely by top-down mechanisms. Our results suggest that in order to dampen the occasionally harmful algal blooms of the Baltic, effort should be addressed not only to control anthropogenic nutrient inputs but also to preserve structure and functioning of higher trophic levels.
Baltic Sea; pelagic marine ecosystem; food web; bottom-up versus top-down control; climate; eutrophication
While it is generally assumed that specialist species are more vulnerable to disturbance compared with generalist counterparts, this has rarely been tested in coastal marine ecosystems, which are increasingly subject to a wide range of natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Habitat specialists are expected to be more vulnerable to habitat loss because habitat availability exerts a greater limitation on population size, but it is also possible that specialist species may escape effects of disturbance if they use habitats that are generally resilient to disturbance. This study quantified specificity in use of different coral species by six coral-dwelling damselfishes (Chromis viridis, C. atripectoralis, Dascyllus aruanus, D. reticulatus, Pomacentrus moluccensis, and P. amboinensis) and related habitat specialization to proportional declines in their abundance following habitat degradation caused by outbreaks of the coral eating starfish, Acanthaster planci. The coral species preferred by most coral-dwelling damselfishes (e.g., Pocillopora damicornis) were frequently consumed by coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish, such that highly specialized damselfishes were disproportionately affected by coral depletion, despite using a narrower range of different coral species. Vulnerability of damselfishes to this disturbance was strongly correlated with both their reliance on corals and their degree of habitat specialization. Ongoing disturbances to coral reef ecosystems are expected, therefore, to lead to fundamental shifts in the community structure of fish communities where generalists are favored over highly specialist species.
Acanthaster planci; coral reef fishes; disturbance; ecological versatility; habitat degradation
Free-ranging animals often cope with fluctuating environmental conditions such as weather, food availability, predation risk, the requirements of breeding, and the influence of anthropogenic factors. Consequently, researchers are increasingly measuring stress markers, especially glucocorticoids, to understand stress, disturbance, and population health. Studying free-ranging animals, however, comes with numerous difficulties posed by environmental conditions and the particular characteristics of study species. Performing measurements under either physical restraint or chemical sedation may affect the physiological variable under investigation and lead to values that may not reflect the standard functional state of the animal. This study measured the stress response resulting from different handling conditions in northern elephant seals and any ensuing influences on carbohydrate metabolism. Endogenous glucose production (EGP) was measured using [6-3H]glucose and plasma cortisol concentration was measured from blood samples drawn during three-hour measurement intervals. These measurements were conducted in weanlings and yearlings with and without the use of chemical sedatives—under chemical sedation, physical restraint, or unrestrained. We compared these findings with measurements in adult seals sedated in the field. The method of handling had a significant influence on the stress response and carbohydrate metabolism. Physically restrained weanlings and yearlings transported to the lab had increased concentrations of circulating cortisol (F11, 46 = 25.2, p<0.01) and epinephrine (F3, 12 = 5.8, p = 0.01). Physical restraint led to increased EGP (t = 3.1, p = 0.04) and elevated plasma glucose levels (t = 8.2, p<0.01). Animals chemically sedated in the field typically did not exhibit a cortisol stress response. The combination of anesthetic agents (Telazol, ketamine, and diazepam) used in this study appeared to alleviate a cortisol stress response due to handling in the field without altering carbohydrate metabolism. Measures of hormone concentrations and metabolism made under these conditions are more likely to reflect basal values.
Anthropogenic disturbance is associated with increased vector-borne infectious disease transmission in wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. The objective of this study was to evaluate how disturbance of a tropical forest landscape impacts abundance of the triatomine bug Rhodnius pallescens, a vector of Chagas disease, in the region of the Panama Canal in Panama. Rhodnius pallescens was collected (n = 1,186) from its primary habitat, the palm Attalea butyracea, in five habitat types reflecting a gradient of anthropogenic disturbance. There was a high proportion of palms infested with R. pallescens across all habitat types (range = 77.1–91.4%). Results show that disturbed habitats are associated with increased vector abundance compared with relatively undisturbed habitats. Bugs collected in disturbed sites, although in higher abundance, tended to be in poor body condition compared with bugs captured in protected forest sites. Abundance data suggests that forest remnants may be sources for R. pallescens populations within highly disturbed areas of the landscape.
Environmental change drives demographic and evolutionary processes that determine diversity within and among species. Tracking these processes during periods of change reveals mechanisms for the establishment of populations and provides predictive data on response to potential future impacts, including those caused by anthropogenic climate change. Here we show how a highly mobile marine species responded to the gain and loss of new breeding habitat. Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, remains were found along the Victoria Land Coast (VLC) in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, 2,500 km from the nearest extant breeding site on Macquarie Island (MQ). This habitat was released after retreat of the grounded ice sheet in the Ross Sea Embayment 7,500–8,000 cal YBP, and is within the range of modern foraging excursions from the MQ colony. Using ancient mtDNA and coalescent models, we tracked the population dynamics of the now extinct VLC colony and the connectivity between this and extant breeding sites. We found a clear expansion signal in the VLC population ∼8,000 YBP, followed by directional migration away from VLC and the loss of diversity at ∼1,000 YBP, when sea ice is thought to have expanded. Our data suggest that VLC seals came initially from MQ and that some returned there once the VLC habitat was lost, ∼7,000 years later. We track the founder-extinction dynamics of a population from inception to extinction in the context of Holocene climate change and present evidence that an unexpectedly diverse, differentiated breeding population was founded from a distant source population soon after habitat became available.
In order to understand how biodiversity is generated and maintained over time, we need to understand the process by which populations form and diverge. Natural variation within species is typically partitioned among populations, which sometimes forms the basis for speciation events. One mechanism for the establishment of novel variation at the population level is through a response to emerging habitat. Here we use data from ancient DNA to show how elephant seal populations responded when new breeding habitat was gained and then lost over the course of approximately 7,000 years. We show that the seals quickly took advantage of newly available breeding habitat, far from the nearest extant breeding site, and that a highly diverse and genetically differentiated population was established over a matter of generations. The key factors were likely the abundant local food resource and extensive physical habitat that allowed rapid expansion after the initial founder event and a tendency for females to return to annual breeding sites in this species. Tracking the founder-extinction dynamics of historical populations provides insight into the likely implications of future environmental change. This is an important tool in our efforts to mitigate the impact of human-induced change.
The Persian Gulf is a semi-enclosed marine system surrounded by eight countries, many of which are experiencing substantial development. It is also a major center for the oil industry. The increasing array of anthropogenic disturbances may have substantial negative impacts on marine ecosystems, but this has received little attention until recently. We review the available literature on the Gulf’s marine environment and detail our recent experience in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to evaluate the role of anthropogenic disturbance in this marine ecosystem. Extensive coastal development may now be the single most important anthropogenic stressor. We offer suggestions for how to build awareness of environmental risks of current practices, enhance regional capacity for coastal management, and build cooperative management of this important, shared marine system. An excellent opportunity exists for one or more of the bordering countries to initiate a bold and effective, long-term, international collaboration in environmental management for the Gulf.
Persian Gulf; Arabian Gulf; Coastal development; Environmental quality; Environmental degradation
A complete understanding of the mechanistic basis of marine ecosystem functioning is only possible through integrative and interdisciplinary research. This enables the prediction of change and possibly the mitigation of the consequences of anthropogenic impacts. One major aim of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action ES0609 “Seagrasses productivity. From genes to ecosystem management,” is the calibration and synthesis of various methods and the development of innovative techniques and protocols for studying seagrass ecosystems. During 10 days, 20 researchers representing a range of disciplines (molecular biology, physiology, botany, ecology, oceanography, and underwater acoustics) gathered at The Station de Recherches Sous-marines et Océanographiques (STARESO, Corsica) to study together the nearby Posidonia oceanica meadow. STARESO is located in an oligotrophic area classified as “pristine site” where environmental disturbances caused by anthropogenic pressure are exceptionally low. The healthy P. oceanica meadow, which grows in front of the research station, colonizes the sea bottom from the surface to 37 m depth. During the study, genomic and proteomic approaches were integrated with ecophysiological and physical approaches with the aim of understanding changes in seagrass productivity and metabolism at different depths and along daily cycles. In this paper we report details on the approaches utilized and we forecast the potential of the data that will come from this synergistic approach not only for P. oceanica but for seagrasses in general.
seagrasses; proteomics; genomics; carbon fluxes; photosynthesis; respiration; productivity; marine
Several studies have related breeding success and survival of sea eagles to toxic or non-toxic stress separately. In the present investigation, we analysed single and combined impacts of both toxic and disturbance stress on populations of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), using an analytical single-species model. Chemical and eco(toxico)logical data reported from laboratory and field studies were used to parameterise and validate the model. The model was applied to assess the impact of ∑PCB, DDE and disturbance stress on the white-tailed eagle population in The Netherlands. Disturbance stress was incorporated through a 1.6% reduction in survival and a 10–50% reduction in reproduction. ∑PCB contamination from 1950 up to 1987 was found to be too high to allow the return of white-tailed eagle as a breeding species in that period. ∑PCB and population trends simulated for 2006–2050 suggest that future population growth is still reduced. Disturbance stress resulted in a reduced population development. The combination of both toxic and disturbance stress varied from a slower population development to a catastrophical reduction in population size, where the main cause was attributed to the reduction in reproduction of 50%. Application of the model was restricted by the current lack of quantitative dose–response relationships between non-toxic stress and survival and reproduction. Nevertheless, the model provides a first step towards integrating and quantifying the impacts of multiple stressors on white-tailed eagle populations.
Sea eagle; Population dynamics; DDT; DDE; PCB
It is thought that dispersal limitation primarily structures host-associated bacterial populations because host distributions inherently limit transmission opportunities. However, enteric bacteria may disperse great distances during food-borne outbreaks. It is unclear if such rapid long-distance dispersal events happen regularly in natural systems or if these events represent an anthropogenic exception. We characterized Salmonella enterica isolates from the feces of free-living Galápagos land and marine iguanas from five sites on four islands using serotyping and genomic fingerprinting. Each site hosted unique and nearly exclusive serovar assemblages. Genomic fingerprint analysis offered a more complex model of S. enterica biogeography, with evidence of both unique strain pools and of spatial population structuring along a geographic gradient. These findings suggest that even relatively generalist enteric bacteria may be strongly dispersal limited in a natural system with strong barriers, such as oceanic divides. Yet, these differing results seen on two typing methods also suggests that genomic variation is less dispersal limited, allowing for different ecological processes to shape biogeographical patterns of the core and flexible portions of this bacterial species' genome.
Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in the ocean, but their impacts on marine species are hotly debated. We evaluated marine fish statuses using conservation (Red List threatened or not) and fisheries (above or below reference points) metrics, compared their alignment, and diagnosed why discrepancies arise. Whereas only 13.5% of Red Listed marine fishes (n = 2952) are threatened, 40% and 21% of populations with stock assessments (n = 166) currently are below their more conservative and riskier reference points, respectively. Conservation and fisheries metrics aligned well (70.5% to 80.7%), despite their mathematical disconnect. Red Listings were not biased towards exaggerating threat status, and egregious errors, where populations were categorized at opposite extremes of fisheries and conservation metrics, were rare. Our analyses suggest conservation and fisheries scientists will agree on the statuses of exploited marine fishes in most cases, leaving only the question of appropriate management responses for populations of mutual concern still unresolved.
A dearth in understanding the behavior of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the scale of populations and individuals has left important management issues, particularly related to human-elephant conflict (HEC), unresolved. Evaluation of differences in behavior and decision-making among individual elephants across groups in response to changing local ecological settings is essential to fill this gap in knowledge and to improve our approaches towards the management and conservation of elephants.
We hypothesized certain behavioral decisions that would be made by Asian elephants as reflected in their residence time and movement rates, time-activity budgets, social interactions and group dynamics in response to resource availability and human disturbance in their habitat. This study is based on 200 h of behavioral observations on 60 individually identified elephants and a 184-km2 grid-based survey of their natural and anthropogenic habitats within and outside the Bannerghatta National Park, southern India during the dry season. At a general population level, the behavioral decisions appeared to be guided by the gender, age and group-type of the elephants. At the individual level, the observed variation could be explained only by the idiosyncratic behaviors of individuals and that of their associating conspecific individuals. Recursive partitioning classification trees for residence time of individual elephants indicated that the primary decisions were taken by individuals, independently of their above-mentioned biological and ecological attributes.
Decision-making by Asian elephants thus appears to be determined at two levels, that of the population and, more importantly, the individual. Models based on decision-making by individual elephants have the potential to predict conflict in fragmented landscapes that, in turn, could aid in mitigating HEC. Thus, we must target individuals, in addition to populations, in our efforts to manage and conserve this threatened species, particularly in human-dominated landscapes.
The environment is currently undergoing changes at both global (e.g., climate
change) and local (e.g., tourism, pollution, habitat modification) scales that
have the capacity to affect the viability of animal and plant populations. Many
of these changes, such as human disturbance, have an anthropogenic origin and
therefore may be mitigated by management action. To do so requires an
understanding of the impact of human activities and changing environmental
conditions on population dynamics. We investigated the influence of human
activity on important life history parameters (reproductive rate, and body
condition, and growth rate of neonate pups) for California sea lions
(Zalophus californianus) in the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Increased human presence was associated with lower reproductive rates, which
translated into reduced long-term population growth rates and suggested that
human activities are a disturbance that could lead to population declines. We
also observed higher body growth rates in pups with increased exposure to
humans. Increased growth rates in pups may reflect a density dependent response
to declining reproductive rates (e.g., decreased competition for resources). Our
results highlight the potentially complex changes in life history parameters
that may result from human disturbance, and their implication for population
dynamics. We recommend careful monitoring of human activities in the Gulf of
California and emphasize the importance of management strategies that explicitly
consider the potential impact of human activities such as ecotourism on
Coral reefs are damaged by natural disturbances and local and global anthropogenic stresses. As stresses intensify, so do debates about whether reefs will recover after significant damage. True headway in this debate requires documented temporal trajectories for coral assemblages subjected to various combinations of stresses; therefore, we report relevant changes in coral assemblages at Little Cayman Island. Between 1999 and 2012, spatiotemporal patterns in cover, densities of juveniles and size structure of assemblages were documented inside and outside marine protected areas using transects, quadrats and measurements of maximum diameters. Over five years, bleaching and disease caused live cover to decrease from 26% to 14%, with full recovery seven years later. Juvenile densities varied, reaching a maximum in 2010. Both patterns were consistent within and outside protected areas. In addition, dominant coral species persisted within and outside protected areas although their size frequency distributions varied temporally and spatially. The health of the coral assemblage and the similarity of responses across levels of protection suggested that negligible anthropogenic disturbance at the local scale was a key factor underlying the observed resilience.
Stress generated by humans on wildlife by continuous development of outdoor recreational activities is of increasing concern for biodiversity conservation. Human disturbance often adds to other negative impact factors affecting the dynamics of vulnerable populations. It is not known to which extent the rapidly spreading free-riding snow sports actually elicit detrimental stress (allostatic overload) upon wildlife, nor what the potential associated fitness and survival costs are. Using a non-invasive technique, we evaluated the physiological stress response induced by free-riding snow sports on a declining bird species of Alpine ecosystems. The results of a field experiment in which radiomonitored black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) were actively flushed from their snow burrows once a day during four consecutive days showed an increase in the concentration of faecal stress hormone (corticosterone) metabolites after disturbance. A large-scale comparative analysis across the southwestern Swiss Alps indicated that birds had higher levels of these metabolites in human-disturbed versus undisturbed habitats. Disturbance by snow sport free-riders appears to elevate stress, which potentially represents a new serious threat for wildlife. The fitness and survival costs of allostatic adjustments have yet to be estimated.
stress ecology; conservation biology; species protection; alpine ecosystems; human disturbance; winter snow sports
Streams collect runoff, heat, and sediment from their watersheds, making them highly vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances such as urbanization and climate change. Forecasting the effects of these disturbances using process-based models is critical to identifying the form and magnitude of likely impacts. Here, we integrate a new biotic model with four previously developed physical models (downscaled climate projections, stream hydrology, geomorphology, and water temperature) to predict how stream fish growth and reproduction will most probably respond to shifts in climate and urbanization over the next several decades.The biotic submodel couples dynamics in fish populations and habitat suitability to predict fish assemblage composition, based on readily available biotic information (preferences for habitat, temperature, and food, and characteristics of spawning) and day-to-day variability in stream conditions.We illustrate the model using Piedmont headwater streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed of the USA, projecting ten scenarios: Baseline (low urbanization; no on-going construction; and present-day climate); one Urbanization scenario (higher impervious surface, lower forest cover, significant construction activity); four future climate change scenarios [Hadley CM3 and Parallel Climate Models under medium-high (A2) and medium-low (B2) emissions scenarios]; and the same four climate change scenarios plus Urbanization.Urbanization alone depressed growth or reproduction of 8 of 39 species, while climate change alone depressed 22 to 29 species. Almost every recreationally important species (i.e. trouts, basses, sunfishes) and six of the ten currently most common species were predicted to be significantly stressed. The combined effect of climate change and urbanization on adult growth was sometimes large compared to the effect of either stressor alone. Thus, the model predicts considerable change in fish assemblage composition, including loss of diversity.Synthesis and applications. The interaction of climate change and urban growth may entail significant reconfiguring of headwater streams, including a loss of ecosystem structure and services, which will be more costly than climate change alone. On local scales, stakeholders cannot control climate drivers but they can mitigate stream impacts via careful land use. Therefore, to conserve stream ecosystems, we recommend that proactive measures be taken to insure against species loss or severe population declines. Delays will inevitably exacerbate the impacts of both climate change and urbanization on headwater systems.
multiple stressors; urbanization; fish assemblage; headwater stream; siltation; flow regime; temperature regime; urban stream syndrome