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Species richness, relative abundance and occupancy of ground-dwelling mammals denote the ineffectiveness of chimpanzee as flagship species

Sun, P, Umuntunundi, P and Wronski, T (2022) Species richness, relative abundance and occupancy of ground-dwelling mammals denote the ineffectiveness of chimpanzee as flagship species. Mammalian Biology. ISSN 1616-5047

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In conservation biology, flagship species are defined as species that can raise support for biodiversity conservation in a given place or social context. In the newly established Gishwati–Mukura National Park in Rwanda, the Eastern chimpanzee was considered such an ambassador. To test whether the flagship species concept was effective in the park, we studied species richness, relative abundance, and species distribution (occupancy) of medium- to large-sized, ground-dwelling mammals using camera trapping technology. The impact of three environmental and three anthropogenic variables on species distribution was investigated and the ecological diversity of the fauna in the national park assessed. Over a period of 9 months, two 4 × 4 camera trapping grids were deployed in Gishwati and Mukura Forest. Sampling effort in each forest equated to 32 and 29 camera trapping locations, yielding 258 and 242 independent photographic events of eight and six species, respectively. In both forests, the Emin's giant poached rat was the most frequently encountered species, while all other species showed high relative abundance only in Gishwati Forest. The relative abundance of the endangered Eastern chimpanzee in Gishwati Forest was 0.54, the estimated occupancy was 0.31. Single-species, single-season occupancy models revealed that forest cover, altitude and distance to forest edge influenced the detectability of L'Hoest's monkey and squirrel species, while no effect was found on their occupancy. Notably, no larger herbivore or carnivore species were observed in the park, while the flagship species, i.e., the Eastern chimpanzee, was relatively abundant. Moreover, in both forests, all detected carnivores were small- to medium-sized, suggesting a meso-predator release phenomenon, i.e., populations of medium-sized predators increased after the removal of larger, top carnivores, due to relaxed competition. It appears that the prioritization of the flagship species resulted in the neglect of other mammalian species, leading eventually into the demise of entire functional guilds. Based on these results, the Gishwati–Mukura NP was categorized as a ‘depleted forest’. We, therefore, strongly object chimpanzees as a suitable flagship species—at least in the Gishwati–Mukura NP—and recommend collating more knowledge on the release of meso-predators and the loss of forest ungulates to improve their future conservation in Afro-montane forest habitats.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 0608 Zoology; Ecology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Publisher: Springer
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2022 09:53
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2022 10:00
DOI or ID number: 10.1007/s42991-022-00289-5
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/17352
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