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Abundance, density, and social structure of African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in a human-modified landscape in southwestern Gabon

AuthorsBrand, Colin M.; Johnson, Mireille B.; Parker, Lilian D.; Maldonado, Jesús E.; Korte, Lisa; Vanthomme, Hadrien; Alonso, Alfonso; Ruiz-López, María José ; Wells, Caitlin P.; Ting, Nelson
Issue Date2020
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE, 15(4): e0231832 (2020)
AbstractPopulation monitoring is critical to effective conservation, but forest living taxa can be difficult to directly observe. This has been true of African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), for which we have limited information regarding population size and social behavior despite their threatened conservation status. In this study, we estimated demographic parameters using genetic capture-recapture of forest elephants in the southern Industrial Corridor of the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas in southwestern Gabon, which is considered a global stronghold for forest elephants. Additionally, we examined social networks, predicting that we would find matrilineal structure seen in both savanna and forest elephants. Given 95% confidence intervals, we estimate population size in the sampled area to be between 754 and 1,502 individuals and our best density estimate ranges from 0.47 to 0.80 elephants per km2. When extrapolated across the entire Industrial Corridor, this estimate suggests an elephant population size of 3,033 to 6,043 based on abundance or 1,684 to 2,832 based on density, approximately 40–80% smaller than previously suggested. Our social network analysis revealed approximately half of network components included females with different mitochondrial haplotypes suggesting a wider range of variation in forest elephant sociality than previously thought. This study emphasizes the threatened status of forest elephants and demonstrates the need to further refine baseline estimates of population size and knowledge on social behavior in this taxon, both of which will aid in determining how population dynamics in this keystone species may be changing through time in relation to increasing conservation threats.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231832
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