Social dominance, seasonal movements, and spatial segregation in African elephants: A contribution to conservation behavior
Wittemyer G., Getz WM., Vollrath F., Douglas-Hamilton I.
The structure of dominance relationships among individuals in a population is known to influence their fitness, access to resources, risk of predation, and even energy budgets. Recent advances in global positioning system radio telemetry provide data to evaluate the influence of social relationships on population spatial structure and ranging tactics. Using current models of socio-ecology as a framework, we explore the spatial behaviors relating to the maintenance of transitive (i.e., linear) dominance hierarchies between elephant social groups despite the infrequent occurrence of contests over resources and lack of territorial behavior. Data collected from seven families of different rank demonstrate that dominant groups disproportionately use preferred habitats, limit their exposure to predation/conflict with humans by avoiding unprotected areas, and expend less energy than subordinate groups during the dry season. Hence, our data provide strong evidence of rank derived spatial partitioning in this migratory species. These behaviors, however, were not found during the wet season, indicating that spatial segregation of elephants is related to resource availability. Our results indicate the importance of protecting preexisting social mechanisms for mitigating the ecological impacts of high density in this species. This analysis provides an exemplar of how behavioral research in a socio-ecological framework can serve to identify factors salient to the persistence and management of at risk species or populations. © 2007 Springer-Verlag.