Predators, Primates and Humans in a landscape of fear.

A field project undertaken by Russell Hill in Soutsponsberg known as the “Predator and Primate Project” which looked into the effects (both lethal and non-lethal) of near-by predators on social animals.

There were 3 main areas of study for the project-

  1. Predator-prey interations (Behavioural ecology)
  2. Assess the role of mountainous regions in biodiversity concentration
  3. Evaluate human-wildlife conflict

Predator related effects on primates was the chosen subject due to the hypothesis that predation leads to group living and whether this was simply another antipredator response to survive . A very well respected study that formed the basis of this investigation was the 2007 paper by Creel and Christianson on the response of elk to a reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone national park.

There were two focal species within this study: the vervet and the samango.

For both species, the landscape of fear was prominent in that the effects of fear of predation greatly exceeded the effects of resource availability. It was found in the research undertaken, that both monkey species had distinct distributions based on their key predators (leopards and baboons). Both the vervets and the samangos also produced unique alarm calls for certain predators. Vervets, for example, used a particular call to alert others of eagles, which are a key predator for young animals specifically and therefore will determine vertical distribution of monkeys.

To understand how important fear was, the researchers used giving up densities to study the relevance of food compared to fear. However, it was found that presence of humans was impacting certain trials due to protection provided by people.


Reflections

Of the few seminars I have reported upon so far, this has been the most interesting for me. Mostly due to the focus of the research being upon animal behaviour in prey-predator relationships. I find this topic very intriguing, particularly when I learned that there is still so much to learn about predator impacts. I was surprised to learn how much of an impact fear had on day to day life but I was already aware of the possession of unique calls and alarm systems used by many animals.

As an area of research it appeals to me. Field-based studies on wild individuals is a region of research that is rapidly growing with new technologies that allow for more accurate results through less invasive means. If I were to enter into the field of behaviour research then I would certainly consider the realm of prey behaviour and response to predators and even human impacts.

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