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Tropical Conservation Science - Summaries for the September 2014 issue

Conservation Letter
    Reintroduction of the scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) in the tropical rainforests of Palenque, Mexico: project design and first year progress
    pp 342-364
    Alejandro Estrada
    There are 17 extant species of macaws in the Neotropics, most of them found in South America. Two subspecies of scarlet macaw (Ara macao) are distinguished in Mesoamerica: Ara macao cyanoptera, from Mexico to central Nicaragua, and Ara macao macao, from southern Nicaragua to South America. Habitat loss, hunting, and in particular illegal traffic have resulted in the local and regional extinction of this macaw within its historical range. In Mexico, the scarlet macaw has disappeared from about 98% of its indigenous range; it is extinct in El Salvador and occurs in very low numbers in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The IUCN recommends two tactics for population restoration: Reintroduction and Reinforcement. In this paper we report the design and first-year progress of a project to reintroduce the scarlet macaw (A. macao cyanoptera) in the tropical rainforests of Palenque, Mexico, where this macaw has been extinct for more than 70 years. The project is spearheaded by Aluxes Ecopark Palenque, bringing together Xcaret Ecopark (as donor of captive-bred scarlet macaws) and the Institute of Biology of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM; provider of the scientific platform for the project). The design of the project adheres to the IUCN/SSC guidelines for reintroductions. A soft-release protocol was developed as a major axis of the reintroduction of the scarlet macaw. This includes a preparation phase to enhance survival in the wild and a long-term post-release monitoring program. Broad social support was considered essential for the success of the project, and a program was implemented to include the local inhabitants as partners in this initiative. Between April 2013 and June 2014, we conducted six successful releases of a total of 92 macaws. Survival to August 2014 was 92%. The reintroduction of the scarlet macaw in the tropical rainforests of Palenque will restore a seed- and fruit-eating avian species with important consequences for ecosystem functions and processes, in a project that reconnects people with their natural heritage.

Research Articles
    First limnological records of highly threatened tropical high-mountain crater lakes in Ethiopia
    pp 365-381
    Fasil Degefu, Alois Herzig, Franz Jirsa and Michael Schagerl
    Crater lakes represent unique, dynamic and complex systems where various processes occur simultaneously. Some of these lakes offers a pristine environment in a beautiful landscape, while others act like a huge chemical reactor and become hazard through the flux of volcanic gases such as CO2 and H2S and turn into one of the chemically most sever aquatic ecosystem, which evidently causing massive fish kills and also pose serious health risks to humans. Volcanic crater lakes are widely distributed throughout the tropics. However, early limnological expedition and research to Africa focused almost exclusively on the great Rift-Valley lakes, and hence there have been comparatively few and/or no scientific investigations on the limnology of highland tropical crater lakes in the region and in Ethiopia in particular. Yet, these lakes are highly threatened by unsustainable tourism, shoreline and crater rim modifications, water abstraction and land grabbing. Therefore, this study provides a first limnological description of three pristine tropical high-mountain crater lakes in central highlands of Ethiopia for the first time, with the aim of establishing baseline data against which future environmental and biological changes can be monitored. The lakes are located above 2800 m elevation with no surface outflow and thus high retention time, which makes it extremely vulnerable against pollution. The conservation significance of these pristine lakes lies predominantly in their representation of unpolluted, freshwater highland lake systems that support diverse biota assemblages like desmids and daphnids, which are highly sensitive to eutrophication.

    Environmental perceptions and resource use in rural communities of the Peruvian Amazon (Iquitos and vicinity, Maynas Province)
    pp 382-402
    Lindsey Swierk and Stephen R. Madigosky
    Families living in small rural communities in tropical forests depend heavily on their local forests and rivers, but rapid rural population growth puts severe pressure on natural resources. This is especially true when local use is combined with commercial natural resource harvesting and the tourism industry, as in the Peruvian Amazon outside Iquitos. To inform natural resource managers and educators of the current needs of local rural families, we surveyed rural families about their natural resource use and how they perceived their local environment. Families in our study relied heavily on the local environment for household needs, and natural products are used for subsistence and only rarely purchased or sold. Older heads of household with more education obtained food, building materials, and firewood directly from their environment, though younger heads of households with less education were more likely to purchase some household items at a market. Families are interested in implementing sustainable practices to ensure that animals and plants will continue to be available in the future. For example, family fisherman indicated that, over the previous 5 years, fish have become smaller and harder to find, and fewer types of fish were caught. Our survey of the Belen Market in Iquitos supports these survey results: we found that the most popular fish species appear to be harvested before they reach their average sizes at sexual maturity. Maintaining natural resources, such as fishery stocks, is essential for rural families but will become more challenging with increased pressure from commercial industries.

    Association between small rodents and forest patch and landscape structure in the fragmented Lacandona rainforest, Mexico
    pp 403-422
    Miriam San-José, Víctor Arroyo-Rodríguez and Víctor Sánchez-Cordero
    With the rapid human population growth and increasing demands for agricultural lands, tropical forests have been progressively converted into agricultural landscapes, and even the last tracts of old-growth forests have been converted into archipelagos of forest patches. Under this scenario, conservation efforts may be misguided unless we understand how such land-use changes affect biological diversity. In this research, we assessed the forest patch (tree basal area, patch size, and isolation) and landscape characteristics (forest cover, degree of fragmentation, and matrix composition) that were more strongly associated with the abundance and diversity of small terrestrial rodents in the Lacandona rainforest, Mexico. In two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), we sampled rodent communities in 12 sites (9 forest patches and 3 areas within a continuous forest). In total, we captured 78 individuals in 2011 and 82 individuals in 2012 from four species: Desmarest’s Spiny Pocket Mouse (Heteromys desmarestianus), Rice Rat (Oryzomys sp.), Mexican Deermouse (Peromyscus mexicanus), and Toltec Cotton Rat (Sigmodon toltecus). Only the abundance of rodents was strongly associated with forest patch and landscape characteristics, but the strongest associations differed between years. The degree of fragmentation, matrix composition, and forest patch isolation showed the lowest impact on rodents, probably because the region is dominated by a highly heterogeneous anthropogenic matrix. The composition of species was weakly related to patch and landscape characteristics in both years. Overall, our findings suggest that almost a half-century of land use in the region has not led to significant changes at the community level, but additional long-term studies including arboreal species are needed before a strong conclusion can be drawn.

    The role of mammals in local communities living in conservation areas in the Northeast of Brazil: an ethnozoological approach
    pp 423-439
    Robson Soares de Melo, Olga Camila da Silva, Antonio Souto, Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves, Nicola Schiel
    Humans have used animals and their products since the beginning of their shared history. Animals are used for different purposes, including food, medicines and magical-religious practices. In this study we analyzed two communities that reside in a conservation area to determine the role of mammals by these communities, considering the influences of factors such as gender and age. Data were obtained through interviews in two communities in the Chapada do Araripe Environmental Protection Area (APA/Araripe) in Northeast Brazil. All of the inhabited houses in the communities were visited, and at most, two people were interviewed per household. A total of 229 interviews were conducted with local residents. A total of 32 species of mammals (from which 24 were wild animals) was recorded, with 8 used for medicinal purposes, 17 species used as food resources, and 23 species related to superstition. Men knew and used more mammals as zootherapeutics and as a food resource than women. There was no significant difference between the genders related to superstition. Regarding age, adults knew and used more mammals as zootherapeutics, and the elderly used more mammals as a food resource. This study demonstrates that the use of wild mammals still occurs in rural communities in Brazil, even in conservation units where the federal laws are stricter. Therefore, the development of environmental education programs involving local communities is of paramount importance to reduce the anthropogenic impacts on endangered species.

    Post-release monitoring of diet profile and diet quality of reintroduced African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) in Umfurudzi Park, Zimbabwe
    pp 440-456
    Victor K. Muposhi, Admire Chanyandura, Edson Gandiwa, Justice Muvengwi, Never Muboko, Philip Taru and Olga L. Kupika
    Reintroduction programs are universally accepted conservation interventions in the restoration of wildlife species and degraded ecosystems. Translocation of wildlife to new ecosystems is associated with changes in diet profiles of such species and eventually their performance, since the quality and quntity of forage varies in time and space. The population decline and local extinction of African buffalo and other species in Umfurudzi Park, Zimbabwe, in the late 1980s led to temporary suspension of hunting activities. To redress this, a public private partnership between Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authourity and Pioneer Africa embarked on wildlife reintroductions and active ecosystem management since 2011. To assist the Park management, we designed monitoring programs to address some questions relating to the diet of the reintroduced buffalo, an important wildlife species of this reintroduction program. We assessed the diet profile (type of grass species prefered) and diet quality (level of crude protein and phosporus) of the buffalo between 2011 and 2012. The reintroduced buffalo selected a total of 42 grass species across throughout the duration of the study. However, the diversity of grass species selected was not different for the wet and dry seasons. Crude protein and phosphorus levels in buffalo faecal samples were within the recommended nutrient scale for southern Africa large herbivores. We conclude that feed availability and quality may not affect the persistence of the reintroduced buffalo in Umfurudzi Park. There is a need to closely monitor grass availability, dietary shifts, and forage quality over time, as well as competition with other grazers.

    Ecological traits of phyllostomid bats associated with sensitivity to tropical forest fragmentation in Los Chimalapas, Mexico
    pp 457-474
    José Luis García-García, Antonio Santos-Moreno and Cristian Kraker-Castañeda
    The habitat fragmentation is one of the main causes of increased species extinction risk in tropical forests. This risk is determined by certain ecological traits that are associated with the sensitivity to the fragmentation. However, the relative importance of each trait is unclear and varies among animal groups. The leaf-nosed bats are a key group in tropical forest because their role as seed dispersers, pollinators, and arthropod predators. We evaluated the relationship between six ecological traits of leaf-nosed bats (body mass, trophic level, vertical foraging area, natural abundance, wing aspect ratio, and relative wing loading) and three measures of sensitivity to habitat fragmentation (species prevalence, change in abundance index, and nestedness ranking) in a fragmented forest in Los Chimalapas, Mexico. Ecological traits were obtained from 20 bat species for a period of 2 years. The analysis indicates that none of ecological traits evaluated have high support, except the natural abundance. This suggests that naturally non-abundant species as Salvin’s Big-eyed Bat (Chiroderma salvini) have a greater risk of population decline because of habitat fragmentation. In contrast, abundant species such as Jamaican Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus jamaicensis) will likely be less affected. The identification of these traits in studies of tropical bat conservation is fundamental to determine species-specific decline risk due to habitat fragmentation.

    Carnivore and herbivore densities in the immediate aftermath of ethno-political conflict: The case of Manas National Park, India
    pp 475-487
    Rajkamal Goswami and T. Ganesh
    Many biodiversity hotspots are currently in areas of high political unrest and armed conflicts. Research on the impacts of such conflicts on wildlife conservation is few and restricted to Africa, Middle-Eastern region of Asia and absent for tropical South Asia. In this study we analyzed the influence of armed conflict and subsequent peacetime interventions on wildlife populations in Manas National Park, a World Heritage Site and an important tiger habitat of India. We used camera trapping and line-transect surveys to estimate the densities of carnivores and herbivores respectively. Most wildlife species survived the conflict except the rhino, Rhinoceros unicornis which was locally exterminated. The tiger and other large cats occur in low densities compared to other tiger habitats of the Indian subcontinent. The abundance of prey species indicates that Manas can support more tigers than what it currently does. The ongoing restoration efforts seem to have an uplifting effect on the overall profile of the park, particularly on tourism and in engaging local communities. Our baseline estimates for the large cats and their prey species will enable future evaluation of the recovery process.

    A population of Blue-winged Macaw Primolius maracana in northeastern Brazil: recommendations for a local Conservation Action Plan
    pp 488-507
    Mauro Pichorim, Thanyria Pollyneide França Câmara, Tonny Marques de Oliveira-Júnior, Damião Valdenor de Oliveira, Érica Patrícia Galvão do Nascimento and Jason Alan Mobley
    The main factors that threaten many species of parrots and macaws are habitat loss, introduction of predators, hunting, and illegal nestling gathering. The Blue-winged Macaw is currently classified as near threatened, and studies have shown a decrease in its population over the last decades. The current study assesses the status of a local population in northeastern Brazil and proposes a conservation action plan. The observations reported here increase the known distribution of the species to the extreme northeastern of Brazil and show a decreasing population size due poaching and lack of suitable habitats. Others impacts in the region are grazing, selective wood extraction, clearing of vegetation, and hunting pressure. Two areas with recent records in the studied region are better preserved and should be considered priority to the conservation of this bird. The effective conservation of these areas will only be possible through the creation of legally protected areas and adequate law enforcement. The most effective means of conserving species is usually to protect large tracts of pristine habitat, which favors the majority of threatened birds. In the current case, it will be necessary to create a conservation unit with total protection in each priority area in order to preserve the surrounding caatinga and the flat portion of the highland areas normally used by the birds. Other actions proposed are inspections against illegal trade, environmental education, implement tourism programs, adopt responsible environmental practices, and increase public awareness and mobilization.

    Domestic dog invasion in an agroforestry mosaic in southern Bahia, Brazil
    pp 508-528
    Enrico Frigeri, Camila Righetto Cassano and Renata Pardini
    The domestic dog is today the most abundant carnivore worldwide with an estimated population of 700 million individuals. In rural areas of the tropics, most dogs are free-ranging and their home ranges encompass areas of native vegetation where they interact with wildlife through predation, competition and disease transmission. They can thus be considered an invasive species that potentially cause negative impacts on native fauna. In an agroforestry mosaic in southern Bahia, one of the most important agroforestry regions in Brazil, mammals of conservation concern are indeed less frequent where dogs are common. The presence of dogs could thus diminish the conservation value of agroforests, an extensive wildlife-friendly production system considered important for conciliating biodiversity conservation with farming production. Using camera traps to sample 39 sites in an agroforestry mosaic in southern Bahia, Brazil, we showed that the mean number of dogs is higher in agroforests than in adjacent native forests (11 compared to 7 dogs per site), and that the mean number of visits per dog increases across agroforests as management intensifies. In both habitats, the presence of dogs was associated with human activity. In contrast to other aspects of agroforest management intensification that negatively affect wildlife (e.g. thinning of shade trees), increased invasion by domestic dogs can be avoided with no impairment to agroforest productivity. Awareness and education campaigns to discourage workers to allow their dogs to follow them into agroforests are thus an important step forward to increase the conservation value of agroforestry mosaics.

    Model thresholds are more important than presence location type: Understanding the distribution of lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in a continuous Atlantic forest of southeast Brazil
    pp 529-547
    Darren Norris
    Like other rare species, the relatively low densities and secretive nature of tapirs means that indirect signs (such as feces, tracks and trails) have been frequently used to estimate their distribution in numerous tropical biomes. Yet it is unclear what information can be derived from the use of these different indirect signs. For example, do different sign types generate different distribution maps? Is it appropriate to model different sign types together (to increase sample size and analytic power)? To answer such questions I compared the distribution maps from different lowland tapir sign (feces and tracks & trails) recorded in a protected area of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. This comparison showed that maps from feces and tracks & trails were similar and that most of the protected area was at least potentially suitable for tapirs. However depending on the model parameters used (“threshold selection methods”) the area of suitable habitat varied from 15 to 82% of the protected area. The similarity of the predicted distributions means that it should be possible to use the different sign types together and that the results from studies using different combinations of feces and/or tracks & trails should also be comparable. However, my findings also showed how results strongly depend on the threshold selection methods and that integrating complementary data regarding species natural history (understanding the how and why of species distributions) is vital to generate meaningful conservation insight from species distribution models.

    Primer design for non-invasive genetic identification of West African threatened primates
    pp 548-560
    Sery Gonedelé Bi, Didier P. Sokouri, Oulo Alla-N’Nan, Kouakou Tiékoura, Marcel Lolo and, Félix Gnangbé
    Intensive poaching pressure and habitat degradation cause severe threats to primates found in West African Guinean forest. The remaining primate populations in this area have low population densities, have secretive habitats, and are wary of humans. This can make field studies and direct observation difficult. To facilitate the non-invasive identification of such discrete populations, we designed species-specific primers (a strand of nucleic acid that serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis) to amplify fragments of the mitochondrial D-loop Hypervariable region I (HVR1) from faecal samples. These primers allow us to differentiate between Diana monkey (Cercopithecus diana), Campbell monkey (Cercopithecus campbelli), lesserspot-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus petaurista), Red colobus (Piliocolobus badius), Olive colobus (Procolobus verus), King colobus (Colobus polykomos), and Geoffroy’s black-and-white colobus (Colobus vellerosus), demonstrating their potential for the identification and conservation of West African threatened primates.

    Intentional snake road-kill: a case study using fake snakes on a Brazilian road
    pp 561-571
    Helio Secco, Pedro Ratton, Erika Castro, Priscila da Silva Lucas and Alex Bager
    Experiments with snake movements on highways revealed different types of behavioral responses to the presence of vehicles. Studies developed in different countries warn about the intentionality of snake road-kills. Cultural background is one of the major problems in the conservation of Brazilian snake species. When snakes are spotted, people usually attempt to kill them, mainly because they believe that snakes are dangerous and represent a threat to human lives. We evaluate the occurrence of intentional snake road-killing on a Brazilian road, using fake snakes exposed on the lane. The objects were monitored by cameras arranged along different stretches of the road. During 96 hours of sampling, 42 intentional snake road-kills were registered. Vehicles belonging to different categories showed differences in the number of intentional snake road-kills. Comparing the rates of intentional road-kills caused by each vehicle category/traffic in each category, we observed the following order of representativeness: truck, pickup truck, bus, car, and motorcycle. The objects located in the center of the lane were road-killed more often than those located at the margins. Our study confirms the practice of intentional road-killing on Brazilian roads, as has been reported for other countries. This driver behavior increases animal mortality. The snake diversity in Brazil and the frequency with which these are recorded as road-kill, are matters of great significance, and may pose a serious threat to species conservation.

    Seed Rain in Abandoned Clearings in a Lowland Evergreen Rain Forest in Southern Thailand
    pp 572-585
    Tuanjit Sritongchuay, George A. Gale, Alyssa Stewart, Thanate Kerdkaew, Sara Bumrungsri
    Some forest restoration techniques treat remnant shrubs as competitors of newly planted tree seedlings, often clearing shrubs and weeds before trees are planted, but such plants may have significant value in attracting seed dispersers. We determined the species density and abundance of both seed rain and its vertebrate dispersers in relation to different microhabitats (shrub-like vs. tree-like vegetation vs. grassland patches) in a 20–ha clearing of weeds mixed with early successional woody vegetation in a lowland evergreen forest in southern Thailand. We found that seed rain abundance was highest under shrubs, followed by under trees and then grassland, whereas seed species richness was highest under trees, followed by under shrubs, and grassland. Distance from the forest edge affected seed rain abundance under trees only. Birds were the main dispersers of seeds at trees and shrubs, while bats were the primary dispersers for the grassland patches. Given these disperser patterns, for landscape planning, isolated remnant trees and shrubs, in addition to well preserved patches, should be considered key to maintaining ecosystem. Finally, because bats were the primary dispersers for grassland patches in our study area and elsewhere, protecting fruit bat populations may be crucial for securing the future of plant communities in tropical forest regions.

    Unveiling the impact of human influence on species distributions in Vietnam: a case study using babblers (Aves: Timaliidae)
    pp 586-596
    Laurel R. Yohe, Jonathan Flanders, Hoang Minh Duc, Long Vu, Thinh Ba Phung, Quang Hao Nguyen, and Sushma Reddy
    Environmental and ecological research has only recently returned its attention to Vietnam, and scientists have since discovered many exciting new species in the country. Simultaneously, over the last twenty years Vietnam has begun to develop into a powerful economic force in the world market. The country now faces the challenge of limiting growth in order to avoid destruction of the extraordinary biodiversity found within its borders. The threat of human influence on species’ habitats in Vietnam is ongoing, but remains poorly investigated. Our study predicted the habitats of several different species of Asian songbirds, commonly known as babblers, using information gathered from tagged museum specimens. From this data we used advanced mapping techniques to measure how human influence fragments the habitats of babblers. Our main finding is that even though different species of babblers live in very different habitats throughout Vietnam, levels of human influence are very similar across species. This pattern suggests that throughout Vietnam, all biodiversity is experiencing similar pressures from humans as the country continues to grow economically. This finding is worrisome, because currently national parks and protected areas only encompass about 20% of babblers’ habitats. The good news is that the average level of human influence on these species is below average of possible levels of human influence. However, our results show that now is the time to prioritize conservation efforts in Vietnam, as hunting, illegal logging, and wildlife trafficking still severely threaten many of Vietnam’s species, in addition to the deleterious effects of habitat loss. We remain hopeful that scientists and policymakers will properly implement programs to protect habitats for thousands of species, some only found nowhere else in the world other than Vietnam.

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