Increasing anthropogenic disturbance restricts wildebeest movement across East African grazing systems

Stabach, J. A. et al. (2022) Increasing anthropogenic disturbance restricts wildebeest movement across East African grazing systems. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10, 846171. (doi: 10.3389/fevo.2022.846171)

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The ability to move is essential for animals to find mates, escape predation, and meet energy and water demands. This is especially important across grazing systems where vegetation productivity can vary drastically between seasons or years. With grasslands undergoing significant changes due to climate change and anthropogenic development, there is an urgent need to determine the relative impacts of these pressures on the movement capacity of native herbivores. To measure these impacts, we fitted 36 white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) with GPS collars across three study areas in southern Kenya (Amboseli Basin, Athi-Kaputiei Plains, and Mara) to test the relationship between movement (e.g., directional persistence, speed, home range crossing time) and gradients of vegetation productivity (i.e., NDVI) and anthropogenic disturbance. As expected, wildebeest moved the most (21.0 km day–1; CI: 18.7–23.3) across areas where movement was facilitated by low human footprint and necessitated by low vegetation productivity (Amboseli Basin). However, in areas with moderate vegetation productivity (Athi-Kaputiei Plains), wildebeest moved the least (13.3 km day–1; CI: 11.0–15.5). This deviation from expectations was largely explained by impediments to movement associated with a large human footprint. Notably, the movements of wildebeest in this area were also less directed than the other study populations, suggesting that anthropogenic disturbance (i.e., roads, fences, and the expansion of settlements) impacts the ability of wildebeest to move and access available resources. In areas with high vegetation productivity and moderate human footprint (Mara), we observed intermediate levels of daily movement (14.2 km day–1; CI: 12.3–16.1). Wildebeest across each of the study systems used grassland habitats outside of protected areas extensively, highlighting the importance of unprotected landscapes for conserving mobile species. These results provide unique insights into the interactive effects of climate and anthropogenic development on the movements of a dominant herbivore in East Africa and present a cautionary tale for the development of grazing ecosystems elsewhere.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Funding and support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (DEB Grant 0919383), the Ohrstrom Family Foundation, and Smithsonian’s Movement of Life Initiative. JH, TM, and JO received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under grant agreement no. 641918 through the AfricanBioServices Project. The German Research Foundation (DFG, Grant # 257734638) also supported JO. CF was supported by the National Science Foundation Infrastructure Innovation for Biological Research (IIBR 1915347).
Keywords:Ecology and evolution, wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), anthropogenic disturbance, NDVI, ctmm, ecosystem resilience, habitat loss and fragmentation.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hopcraft, Dr Grant and Morrison, Dr Thomas
Authors: Stabach, J. A., Hughey, L. F., Crego, R. D., Fleming, C. H., Hopcraft, J. G. C., Leimgruber, P., Morrison, T. A., Ogutu, J. O., Reid, R. S., Worden, J. S., and Boone, R. B.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publisher:Frontiers Media
ISSN (Online):2296-701X
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 Stabach, Hughey, Crego, Fleming, Hopcraft, Leimgruber, Morrison, Ogutu, Reid, Worden and Boone
First Published:First published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10: 846171
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License
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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
171925AfricanBioServicesDaniel HaydonEuropean Commission (EC)641918Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine