The second seminar in the Bioenterprise and employability was by Professor Russell Hill, Durham University. Prof. Hill also works as a part of the Primate & Predator Project in South Africa.
The main objectives of the project are:
- To assess the role of mountainous regions in biodiversity conservation.
- The behavioural ecology of predator-prey interactions focusing on diurnal primates and their predators as a model system.
- Evaluating the nature and extent of human-wildlife conflict within the Southpansberg mountains, South Africa.
Predation is one of the most important selective forces that drives evolution, with most animal species taking part in some sort of predator-prey interaction. Like most interactions there are both direct and indirect effects of predation; from changing population sizes; effects on reproductive success and energetic or physical costs of being predated.
The most commonly used example follows the reintroduction of Grey wolves into Yellowstone National park, USA and their subsequent effects on Elk populations.
Landscapes of fear
A landscape of fear can be described as a psychological topography that exists in the brain of a prey species consisting of mountains of fear and valleys of safety.
Hill and his team of researchers used Vervet and Samango monkeys as the study system, specifically their perceived risk of predation by an intact predator guild. Both species have very predator specific and acoustically distinct alarm calls which were then used to map their home ranges.
With the Vervet monkeys, it was found that the fear of predation by leopards had a more significant effect on the use of their home range compared that of eagles and snakes. The researchers also found that the effects of fear exceeded that of resource availability.
In comparison, the predation risk of Samango monkeys by eagles was also significant and the effect of fear exceeded the effect of resource availability when determining they utilise their home range.
These different responses can be explained through how each species utilise their environment as well as the predator’s hunting techniques. Samango monkeys are predominantly arboreal and are therefore at a higher risk of predation by aerial ambush predators like eagles. Whereas Vervet monkeys are semi-terrestrial so are less likely to be predated by eagles and therefore don’t need an eagle-specific alarm call.
Large predators, big cats in particular, have always been an interest of mine so I found this seminar very interesting. By conducting research into species interactions you could potentially predict the impact extinctions or population collapses on trophic cascades. Prof. Hill also went on to talk about human-wildlife conflict which is also another topic of interest I have. Human-wildlife conflict is one of the most important causes of population declines, closely following habitat fragmentation and degradation. So by conducting research in this area you are able to develop a more community based approach to conservation in areas where it is needed rather than removing individuals for breeding programs with no thought of future reintroductions.