Professor Russell Hill of Durham University gave a whistle-stop tour of his work with the Primate and Predator project in South Africa’s Soutpansberg mountain range. The objectives of the project are:
- How do predator-prey interactions shape primate’s behaviour and social interactions?
- Assessment of the role of mountain regions in biodiversity.
- Understanding human-wildlife conflict.
Direct versus non-direct effects of predation
There are both indirect and direct effects of predators. This is most commonly shown by the effect of wolf reestablishment in Yellowstone national park on the Elk. The wolves change the way the Elk use their home range, causing them to feed in areas with lesser food availability.
Landscapes of Fear
It has been agreed by many that the most important landscape to any animal should be its landscape of fear. This is what the primate and predator project investigated with Vervet and Samango monkeys, by looking at the perceived risk of predation by the individual species.
Both species have acoustically distinct calls for different predators and their ranges overlap. Areas of the home range are also used more intensively than other areas in both species.
By modelling the perceived risk from one type of predator (using the alarm calls from the monkeys), the intensity of usage of an area, as well as food availability, visibility and other environmental aspects they were able to see what factor had the most significant effect on the two species home range use.
In Vervet monkeys it was found that the fear of leopards had the most significant effect on their range use, with no effect for eagles and snakes. It was also shown the effect of fear exceeded those of resource availability.
In Samango monkeys the effect of fear also exceeded the effect of resource availability in determining home range use, although eagle risk was also significant. The eagle landscape of fear also correlates to the degree to which Samangos show vigilance behaviour.
This difference can be attributed to the fact that Vervets are terrestrial whereas Samangos are arboreal therefore leopards appear to pose less of a threat.
My opinions and how this will affect my future
As I am greatly interested in primatology anyway, I found this talk incredibly interesting. I had not thought about predators affecting a preys range use as deeply as this before, whereas I now see that there is a very clear, obvious link between the two.
I do believe this will affect further research by myself. I am currently using mapping programs to see how the biogeography of the ranges of primates differs between subspecies, in an effort to see how this information could be used to help conserve them. However, I have not considered predators in this research, and now believe that this could be an integral piece of the puzzle. Therefore, I am now considering looking at whether predator, human or other species ranges overlap with the focal species to see if this has an effect on the distribution.