New research, which provides the most comprehensive analysis of Asian elephants’ movements and habitat preferences to date, shows that elephants prefer habitats on the fringes of protected areas, rather than the areas themselves. The findings are published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.
An international team of researchers has analyzed the movement and habitat preferences of 102 Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo and recorded more than 600,000 GPS locations. They found that the majority of elephants spent more than half their time outside protected areas, preferring slightly disturbed forests and regrowth areas.
However, protected areas still played an important role, with the elephants most favoring areas within three kilometers of the boundaries of the protected area.
The preference for disturbed forest is thought to be related to dietary habits. Elephants like to eat grasses, bamboo, palms and fast-growing trees, which are common in disturbed environments but relatively scarce under the canopy of old-growth forests.
dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden and the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, and one of the lead authors of the study said: “Our results show that protected areas are very important, but not enough as an overall strategy for Asian elephant conservation. .
“Given their preference for habitats outside protected areas, elephants will inevitably come into conflict with humans. This highlights the importance of promoting human-elephant coexistence around protected areas.”
The authors make clear that their findings do not diminish the importance of protected areas, a cornerstone of global conservation strategies. dr. Benoit Goossens of Danau Girang Field Center and Cardiff University, the other lead author, added: “We believe that protected areas are the most effective tool for preserving biodiversity in general. In the case of Asian elephants, protected areas provide long-lasting security and represent the core areas for elephant conservation.
“Our results show that elephant conservation strategies need to be realistic and recognize the nuances of elephant habitat needs and preferences, integrating holistic approaches to human-elephant coexistence outside protected areas.”
Based on their findings, the authors make three key recommendations for the conservation of Asian elephants:
- Includes large protected areas with core areas where elephants can find safety
- Integrate ecological corridors to connect networks of protected areas
- Mitigating human-elephant conflicts, especially around protected areas, with an emphasis on protecting people’s safety and livelihoods, and promoting tolerance towards the presence of elephants.
The Sundaic region, where the research took place, is a global biodiversity hotspot. However, it is estimated that only 50% of the original forest in the region remains and less than 10% of it is formally protected. Asian elephants are endangered and live in highly fragmented landscapes in this region.
Because of the extensive habitats of Asian elephants, they can often be found in human-dominated landscapes, inevitably leading to human-elephant conflict.
In the study, the researchers analyzed the movement of 102 Asian elephants, recording more than 60,000 GPS locations in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo. The data is compiled from more than ten years of fieldwork by three research groups.
The researchers then compared this data with the locations of formally protected areas to see how much time elephants spent in these areas and the areas around them.
Protected areas can vary wildly in the level of protection they receive. In this study, the authors included only protected areas in the World Database of Protected Areas in their analysis. They do not include exploited forest reserves used for logging.
Speaking about the next steps for research in this area and the conservation of Asian elephants, Dr. Antonio de la Torre, lead author of the study: “Human-elephant conflict is now the greatest threat to Asian elephants, but we know surprisingly little about the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies and how the long-term and sustainable coexistence of humans and elephants can be promoted.
“Understanding how we can reduce the costs of this conflict to both humans and elephants and how we can increase people’s tolerance towards the presence of elephants should be the top priority of research in the area.”
Researchers investigate the complex interactions between timber, logging and forest elephants
J. Antonio de la Torre et al, Sundaian elephants prefer habitats on the fringes of protected areas, Journal of Applied Ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.14286
Quote: Asian elephants prefer habitats at the boundaries of protected areas (2022, October 18) retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-asian-elephants-habitats-boundaries-areas. html
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