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Human density modulates spatial associations among tropical forest terrestrial mammal species

Daniel Gorczynski, Chia Hsieh, Jorge Ahumada, Emmanuel Akampurira, Mahandry Hugues Andrianarisoa, Santiago Espinosa, Steig Johnson, Charles Kayijamahe, Marcela Guimarães Moreira Lima, Badru Mugerwa, Francesco Rovero, Julia Salvador, Fernanda Santos, Douglas Sheil, Eustrate Uzabaho, Lydia Beaudrot

Global Change Biology

September 29, 2022

The spatial aggregation of species pairs often increases with the ecological similarity of the species involved. However, the way in which environmental conditions and anthropogenic activity affect the relationship between spatial aggregation and ecological similarity remains unknown despite the potential for spatial associations to affect species interactions, ecosystem function, and extinction risk. Given that human disturbance has been shown to both increase and decrease spatial associations among species pairs, ecological similarity may have a role in mediating these patterns. Here, we test the influences of habitat diversity, primary productivity, human population density, and species' ecological similarity based on functional traits (i.e., functional trait similarity) on spatial associations among tropical forest mammals. Large mammals are highly sensitive to anthropogenic change and therefore susceptible to changes in interspecific spatial associations. Using two-species occupancy models and camera trap data, we quantified the spatial overlap of 1216 species pairs from 13 tropical forest protected areas around the world. We found that the association between ecological similarity and interspecific species associations depended on surrounding human density. Specifically, aggregation of ecologically similar species was more than an order of magnitude stronger in landscapes with the highest human density compared to those with the lowest human density, even though all populations occurred within protected areas. Human-induced changes in interspecific spatial associations have been shown to alter top-down control by predators, increase disease transmission and increase local extinction rates. Our results indicate that anthropogenic effects on the distribution of wildlife within protected areas are already occurring and that impacts on species interactions, ecosystem functions, and extinction risk warrant further investigation.

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Gorczynski, D., Hsieh, C., Ahumada, J., Akampurira, E., Andrianarisoa, M. H., Espinosa, S., Johnson, S., Kayijamahe, C., Lima, M. G. M., Mugerwa, B., Rovero, F., Salvador, J., Santos, F., Sheil, D., Uzabaho, E., & Beaudrot, L. (2022). Human density modulates spatial associations among tropical forest terrestrial mammal species. Global Change Biology. Portico. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16434