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Multispecies hierarchical modeling reveals variable responses of African carnivores to management alternatives

Farr, Matthew T., Green, David S., Holekamp, Kay E., Roloff, Gary J., Zipkin, Elise F.
Ecological applications 2019 v.29 no.2 pp. e01845
Canis mesomelas, Crocuta crocuta, Felidae, anthropogenic activities, carnivores, ecosystems, foxes, humans, models, monitoring, population density, Kenya
Carnivore communities face unprecedented threats from humans. Yet, management regimes have variable effects on carnivores, where species may persist or decline in response to direct or indirect changes to the ecosystem. Using a hierarchical multispecies modeling approach, we examined the effects of alternative management regimes (i.e., active vs. passive enforcement of regulations) on carnivore abundances and group sizes at both species and community levels in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Alternative management regimes have created a dichotomy in ecosystem conditions within the Reserve, where active enforcement of regulations maintains low levels of human disturbance in the Mara Triangle and passive enforcement of regulations in the Talek region permits multiple forms of human disturbance. Our results demonstrate that these alternative management regimes have variable effects on 11 observed carnivore species. As predicted, some species, such as African lions and bat‐eared foxes, have higher population densities in the Mara Triangle, where regulations are actively enforced. Yet, other species, including black‐backed jackals and spotted hyenas, have higher population densities in the Talek region where enforcement is passive. Multiple underlying mechanisms, including behavioral plasticity and competitive release, are likely causing higher black‐backed jackals and spotted hyena densities in the disturbed Talek region. Our multispecies modeling framework reveals that carnivores do not react to management regimes uniformly, shaping carnivore communities by differentially producing winning and losing species. Some carnivore species require active enforcement of regulations for effective conservation, while others more readily adapt (and in some instances thrive in response) to lax management enforcement and resulting anthropogenic disturbance. Yet, high levels of human disturbance appear to be negatively affecting the majority of carnivores, with potential consequences that may permeate throughout the rest of the ecosystem. Community approaches to monitoring carnivores should be adopted as single species monitoring may overlook important intra‐community variability.