The influence of forage, protected areas, and mating prospects on grouping patterns of male elephants
© 2014 International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved. Factors affecting social group size in mammals are relatively well studied for females, but less is known about determinants of group size for males, particularly in species that live in sexually segregated groups. Male grouping patterns are thought to be driven more by spatial and temporal dispersion of mating opportunities than by food resources or predation risk. We evaluated the influence of 3 factors on male group sizes and number of males in mixed-sex groups in African elephants; forage availability (using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, a satellite-based indicator of primary productivity), anthropogenic mortality risk (using distance of elephants from a protected area center), and mating opportunities (using the number of males in mixed-sex groups with and without estrous females). Using zero-truncated negative binomial regressions and a model-selection approach, we found that male elephants occurred in larger groups where primary productivity was higher and where they were further from a protected area center. However, we found an interaction between primary productivity and anthropogenic mortality risk: at low primary productivity, elephants formed larger groups further away from a protected area center, but did less so at higher primary productivity. This pattern suggests that male elephants are sensitive to seasonal variation in potential anthropogenic mortality risk, by remaining in smaller groups when risk is low, but forming larger groups when risk is high. Mating opportunities also led to an increase in male numbers in mixed-sex groups, but its relative influence on male grouping was less important because mating opportunities were rare.
Chiyo, PI; Wilson, JW; Archie, EA; Lee, PC; Moss, CJ; Alberts, SC
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