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The ecology and evolution of behavioral variation in the African antelope and the relevance of behavior for conservation Brashares, Justin S.

Abstract

Resource distribution, habitat structure, and predation pressure are thought to be the primary forces driving the evolution of variation in social organization within and between species. I tested several predicted links between ecology and social organization with interand intraspecific comparative examinations of African antelope (family Bovidae). First, for 75 antelope species I tested the hypotheses that dietary selectivity is correlated negatively with (1) body mass and (2) group size, (3) that gregarious species either flee or counter-attack when approached by predators, but that solitary and pair-living species seek cover to hide, and (4) that body mass and group size are correlated positively. My results supported the first three of these hypotheses, but the hypothesis that body mass and group size are related positively was only weakly supported in a phylogenetically corrected analysis. Second, I studied 161 individually identified oribi, Ourebia ourebi, at five sites along an ecological gradient in Ghana, West Africa, to examine correlates of variability in social behavior. Results of uni- and multi-variate analyses showed that forage abundance and quality accounted best for variation in female oribi dispersion among and within study populations. Male territorial behavior differed among sites and was related to female home range size. Using 30 years of historical wildlife count data from six reserves in Ghana, I next asked if behavior, and other traits of 41 species of large African mammals, and geographic characteristics of reserves predispose species to local extinction. I showed that species in isolated populations and monogamous species were particularly prone to extinction. Abundance, fecundity, trophic group, and human hunting preference were unrelated to persistence. Looking at external influences on species persistence I found that ninety-eight percent of the observed variation in extinction rates among Ghana's reserves was accounted for statistically by human population and reserve size. Results also showed that extinction rates were highest for all large mammals near reserve borders. Taken together, these four studies identify the role of ecology in shaping the behavioral variation observed among and within species and they highlight behavioral and other traits that affect the management and conservation of African mammals.

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