Aspects of the ecology of Cape porcupines on farmlands, peri-urban and suburban areas in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Ngcobo, Samukelisiwe Princess.
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The unprecedented changes in the environmental and ecological processes of the biosphere have led some to believe that we have transitioned into a new geological era from the Holocene. This current era is known as the Anthropocene epoch, termed as such due to the unprecedented human-induced environmental change. Humans have dominated global changes in the environment and climate through the conversion of natural land-use systems into anthropogenic landscapes dominated by agriculture, urban and industrial development. The conversion and destruction of natural habitats into anthropogenic ones have caused shifts in ecosystem functions, and ultimately this has dire consequences for biological diversity globally. Although many species have gone extinct due to anthropogenic land-use changes, some have persisted and thrive within human-dominated landscapes. These species have adapted well to these landscapes, to the point whereby they have modified their behaviour to exploit anthropogenic resources, and increase in numbers. However, the expansion of human land-use into historically wildlands means that wildlife and humans will increasingly interact with one another. This is cause for concern, particularly with the projection of future anthropogenic land-use expansion and intensification. As a result, there is need to research how wildlife in human-dominated landscapes adapt and how their survival will influence human-wildlife interaction in the future. Cape porcupines, Hystrix africaeaustralis, are one of those species which have benefited from anthropogenic change of the landscape. However, due to their effectiveness in exploiting anthropogenic food and shelter resources, they have been perceived as problematic. This has led to their persecutions in certain areas, particularly within agricultural systems. But they are also becoming increasingly problematic also in suburbia. Therefore, as motivation for this study, we aim to investigate the spatial ecology of Cape porcupines in human-dominated landscapes of farmland and urban areas. This is because there is very little information on their space use and the research on Cape porcupines is outdated. Consequently, due to their potential to become conflict-causing, there is urgency to determine their spatial ecology and contribute knowledge towards their conservation and management in these landscapes. Therefore, Cape porcupine home range and habitat use along a land-use gradient were investigated. A total of fifteen individual Cape porcupines were captured and fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) collar transmitters in farmlands of Fort Nottingham, a peri-urban estate near Howick, and in a suburban estate in Ballito, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Data obtained from the GPS transmitters were used to estimate Cape porcupine home ranges using the Kernel Density Estimator (KDE) (Chapter 2). Overall estimated Cape porcupine home ranges were very small (n = 9, mean ± SE: 39.37 ± 6.33 ha) compared with other Hystrix porcupines. Farmland Cape porcupine home ranges (24.57 ha) were the smallest relative to the peri-urban (34.61 ha) and suburban areas (45.18 ha). These results were as expected, since it has been revealed that porcupine home ranges are determined by forage availability. Consequently, these human-dominated habitats have anthropogenic food resources that are constant relative to natural resources. This means that the expansion of human-dominated landscapes will result in the contraction of Cape porcupine home ranges as they benefit from anthropogenic resources. With the aid of the radio-telemetry data, we also determined Cape porcupine habitat use in the farmland, peri-urban and suburban areas, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Chapter 3). Habitat use of Cape porcupines were investigated at the landscape-scale (2nd order of selection) and the home range-scale (3rd order of selection). Habitat use of Cape porcupines varied at the two-levels of selection, and individual Cape porcupines utilized different habitats, but generally selected the forest with bushland habitat above other habitats. We thought Cape porcupine habitat use would be determined by habitats dominated by anthropogenic food resources (crops and gardens). However, Cape porcupines utilized natural food resources although they lived in human-dominated landscapes. Their habitat use was determined by the presence of forest with bushland habitat, and to a less extent by croplands or residential gardens. This means that at this point, Cape porcupines opportunistically utilized anthropogenic food resources according to their availability. However, these results should be interpreted with caution since the study duration was limited by battery life of the GPS transmitters (~ 5 months). This study revealed that Cape porcupine showed individual variation in ranging patterns and habitat use which were likely influenced by forage availability. In addition, Cape porcupines shifted their spatial behaviour depending on the landscape they inhabited. Therefore, the behavioural flexibility of Cape porcupines enabled them to adapt to anthropogenic changing land-use and successfully persist there.