Masai Mara animals’ friendships, new research


This 2016 video says about itself:

Masai Mara – safari adventure in a wildlife paradise – Predators, big herds and wildebeest migration

The Masai Mara is one of the best-known nature reserves in Africa. The area is famous particularly for the concentration of predators. The film shows the life of a mother cheetah with her cubs and a pride of lions. But also the migration of large herds of wildebeests and zebras with the crossing of the Mara River attracts visitors in its spell.

From the University of Liverpool in England:

Animal friendships ‘change with the weather’ in the Masai Mara

July 31, 2019

When it comes to choosing which other species to hang out with, wild animals quite literally change their minds with the weather, a new University of Liverpool study reveals.

The findings, which are published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, could help conservationists better predict the risk of extinction faced by endangered species.

“In the wild, a species always exists as part of a community of other species, which affect its survival. These interactions are crucial when it comes to predicting extinction risk: if we focus only on single species in isolation we may get it very wrong,” explains the leader of the research team, Dr Jakob Bro-Jørgensen.

In this study the researchers aimed to uncover if species alter their preference for different social partners when their environment changes — a central question to forecast how current environmental changes caused by humans are likely to affect animal populations and communities.

Over a year, they followed the distribution in space and time of a dozen species inhabiting the Masai Mara plains in East Africa, including buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, ostriches and warthogs, to see how the strength of social attraction within individual species pairs changed between the wet and dry season.

All of the savannah herbivore species underwent seasonal changes when it came to their social groupings, with rainfall affecting half of all the possible species pairs.

The researchers suggest that this could be due to a number of reasons, including species migration, climate adaption and feeding preferences. For example, the presence of migrating wildebeest during the dry season may provide a welcome social partner for some, like zebra, but be avoided by others, like buffalo, while arid-adapted species, such as gazelles, ostrich and warthog, may group together during the dry season but separate during the wet season.

“Our study shows that the dramatic changes that humans are causing to the environment at present, be it through climate change, overhunting or habitat fragmentation, will likely create indirect consequences by changing the dynamics of ecological communities,” says Dr Bro-Jørgensen.

“This can cause unexpected declines in species if critical bonds with other species are broken. A particular concern is when animals find themselves in novel conditions outside the range which they have been shaped by evolution to cope with,” he adds.

Following on from this study, the researchers now plan to investigate how predation and feeding strategies interact to drive the formation of mixed-species groups.

For four years, a team of zoologists from the universities of Liverpool and York has been studying the formation of mixed groups of herbivore species on the African savannahs in Masai Mara, Kenya. Their findings, published in Ecology Letters, show that herbivores seek out the company of species with the most informative alarm calls who can alert them to the threat of nearby predators: here.

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