Spatiotemporal variation in resource selection of servals: insights from a landscape under heavy land-use transformation

Tharmalingam Ramesh (1), Riddhika Kalle (1), Colleen T. Downs (1)

1 School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, 3209, SouthAfrica, Email: ramesh81ngl@gmail.com

Changes in habitat composition and structure along the natural–agricultural habitat gradient affect spatial ecology of carnivores at both intraspecific and interspecific levels. An important prerequisite for the conservation and management of habitat specialists is a sound understanding of how they use indigenous habitats within fragmented landscapes. We present the first comprehensive study on home range, overlap and resource selection of 16 radio-collared servals (Leptailurus serval) in the Drakensberg Midlands, South Africa.  Servals (eleven males and five females) were live-trapped and radio-tracked between May 2013 and August 2014 covering four seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn). Mean annual home-range estimates (95% and 50% fixed kernel (FK)) for males (38.07 km2; 8.27 km2) were generally larger than females (6.22 km2; 1.04 km2). There was considerable intersexual home-range overlap (> 85%) while intrasexual overlaps were less (< 10%). Home range size decreased with increase in age and less availability of wetland, while it increased in males at both levels (95% FK and 50% FK). Home range size increased in males  compared  to  females  while  it  decreased  with  age  and  availability  of  wetland.  For  both  sexes, Manley’s selection index indicated that natural habitats like wetland and forest with bushland ranked higher than all other habitat classes. However, forested habitat was about twice more frequently used by males than females while croplands were less favoured by both sexes. Our results emphasize that natural habitats, mainly wetlands and forests with bushland, are important predictors of spatio-temporal use of servals in agricultural mosaics of South Africa.

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