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Assessment of distribution and abundance of ungulate prey using spatial models in Nagarahole and Bandipur Tiger Reserves of India

Assessment of distribution and abundance of ungulate prey using spatial models in Nagarahole and Bandipur Tiger Reserves of India
N. Samba Kumar

2010

Centre for Wildlife Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (formerly Manipal University), Manipal 576104, Karnataka, INDIA.

ABSTRACT

Ungulates are hoofed mammals (13 families, 95 genera, 257 species; Wilson and Reeder 2005) that show very high diversity in body size, diet, habitat selection and climatic tolerance. Large ungulates (> 5 kg of body mass) influence the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems (Augustine and McNaughton 2006; Duncan et al 2006; Pringle et al 2007). Being primary consumers, they impact plant community structure and forest dynamics through grazing, browsing (Chase et al 2000) and seed dispersal (Paine 2000; Duncan et al 2006) in addition to affecting primary plant productivity, nutrient cycling and soil fertility (McNaughton et al 1997; Frank et al 1998, 2002). As important prey species of large predators such as tigers and leopards they also determine the structure of predator guilds (Karanth and Sunquist 1995, 2000; Sunquist et al 1999; Macdonald 2001; Karanth et al 2004).

Large ungulates are declining worldwide (Macdonald 2001, Schipper et al 2008) and are among the most threatened mammals (IUCN 2003). They are vulnerable primarily due to their biological traits such as large body size, substantial dietary and energetic needs, small litter size, long inter-calving interval (Eisenberg 1980; Hudson 1984), and, due to enormous pressures from humans and their livestock (Macdonald 2001).

India is home to more than 15% of the world’s ungulate species (7 families, 23 genera and 39 species). Ungulate biomass density in some of the protected sites in India is comparable to some of the best African habitats (Karanth and Sunquist 1992; Khan et al 1996; Kumar 2000). Compared to the studies of African ungulates, investigation of community structure, habitat relationships and habitat use patterns of Indian ungulates particularly in the context of severe anthropogenic pressures are inadequately explored. India has lost nearly 90% of its natural vegetation in the last 300 years and relatively undisturbed ungulate habitats are confined to less than 5% of remaining natural vegetation (Karanth et al 2009, 2010). Given this scenario, assessment of factors that contribute to high ungulate densities is of interest to both science and management. My study addresses this critical need.

The overall goal of my study is to examine factors that influence spatial patterns of ungulate distribution and densities in tropical deciduous forests and determine potential drivers of these spatial and population parameters. The study was carried out in Nagarahole-Bandipur area, which is one of the most important critical tiger-prey habitats in India.