What We’re Reading- Jan 27, 2017

When Following the Leader is Bad for Your Health (Like You Die)
Many species make collective group decisions, including how to move across the landscape in search of food, water, shelter, or during long-distance migrations.  However, not all habitat is equal with some areas being higher risk than others, especially in areas where there is a matrix of natural habitat and human used land (e.g. farms, roads, cities).  This paper (sub) fit bison (Bison bison) with GPS collars and tracked their movements over multiple years.  At the beginning of the study (late 1990s) bison predominantly grazed within a national park; however, in the mid 2000s they began to eat more alfalfa and timothy from agricultural land.  The results show that there was an increase in likelihood of an animal grazing on agricultural land when roaming around with another animal that knew the location of a large patch.  However, the authors also estimated observed and predicted mortality under their models for a social vs asocial bison society.  The results show that more bison died than expected, and they attribute that to the animals following others who erroneously assessed the higher risk near agricultural patches.

Thus, species social behavior should be investigated to facilitate conservation efforts.  And maybe even periodic training to avoid high-risk habitat could facilitate conservation efforts.

Photo credit- Daniel J. Cox via ARKive

A Roadmap for Successful Rhino Conservation?
This paper contrasts recent rhino conservation successes in Nepal and India, where rhino populations are increasing and poaching has been virtually eradicated, with conservation efforts in Africa, where poaching still claims hundreds of animals each year and threatens rhinos with extinction within a couple of decades. Two factors are identified as being crucial to successful conservation in Nepal: strict enforcement of laws makes poaching unattractive, while effective engagement with local communities recruits people who live with rhinos as conservation advocates, for example by sharing income from tourism with people who live near national parks.

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