Investigating the effects of management practice on mammalian co-occurrence along the West Coast of South Africa

03 March 2020

The subtle and cascading effects (e.g., altered interspecific interactions) that anthropogenic stressors have on local ecological assemblages often go unnoticed but are concerning given their importance in ecosystem function. For example, elimination of buffalo from the Serengeti National Park is suggested to have driven increased abundance of smaller antelope as a result of release from competition. The perceived low abundance of small antelope in the contractual Postberg section of the West Coast National Park (the park) has been an ongoing management concern which has been anecdotally attributed to predation by a mesopredator (the caracal, Caracal caracal). However, we hypothesized that the historical overstocking, and consequent overgrazing by larger-bodied managed ungulates would influence small antelope abundance. Using camera traps, we investigated species co-occurrence and temporal activity between small antelope, managed ungulates and caracals in Postberg as well as another part of the park (Langebaan) and a farm outside of the park. Results suggest that small antelope and managed ungulates have a high degree of temporal overlap (Delta = 0.74, 0.79 and 0.86 for the farm, Langebaan and Postberg respectively), while temporal partitioning between small antelope and caracal is apparent (Delta = 0.59). Further, small antelope and managed ungulates appear to occur independently of one another (SIF = 0.91-1 across areas). Managed ungulates were detected almost three times more frequently on fallow lands when compared to the more vegetated sites within the park suggesting that segregated food/cover resources allow for independent occurrence. Small antelope had a much higher probability of occurrence outside of the protected area (e.g., psi = 0.192 and 0.486 for steenbok at Postberg, Langebaan compared to 0.841 on the farm), likely due to less variable (more intact) habitat outside of the protected area. There is not sufficient evidence to currently warrant management intervention for predators. The small size of the protected area provides limited scope for spatial replication thus reducing possibilities to infer the cause and effect for complex interactions (which would historically have taken place over much larger areas) with negative implications for adaptive management. We recommend continued monitoring over multiple seasons and a wider area to determine the spatial information requirements to inform management of small protected areas.