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Concept: Wildlife


Following the 1986 Chernobyl accident, 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 4,200 km(2) Chernobyl exclusion zone [1]. There is continuing scientific and public debate surrounding the fate of wildlife that remained in the abandoned area. Several previous studies of the Chernobyl exclusion zone (e.g. [2,3]) indicated major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations at dose rates well below those thought [4,5] to cause significant impacts. In contrast, our long-term empirical data showed no evidence of a negative influence of radiation on mammal abundance. Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than 7 times higher. Additionally, our earlier helicopter survey data show rising trends in elk, roe deer and wild boar abundances from one to ten years post-accident. These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl exclusion zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposures.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Deer, Zone of alienation, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Wildlife, Megafauna of Eurasia, Venison


Southern stingrays, Dasyatis americana, have been provided supplemental food in ecotourism operations at Stingray City Sandbar (SCS), Grand Cayman since 1986, with this site becoming one of the world’s most famous and heavily visited marine wildlife interaction venues. Given expansion of marine wildlife interactive tourism worldwide, there are questions about the effects of such activities on the focal species and their ecosystems. We used a combination of acoustic telemetry and tag-recapture efforts to test the hypothesis that human-sourced supplemental feeding has altered stingray activity patterns and habitat use at SCS relative to wild animals at control sites. Secondarily, we also qualitatively estimated the population size of stingrays supporting this major ecotourism venue. Tag-recapture data indicated that a population of at least 164 stingrays, over 80% female, utilized the small area at SCS for prolonged periods of time. Examination of comparative movements of mature female stingrays at SCS and control sites revealed strong differences between the two groups: The fed animals demonstrated a notable inversion of diel activity, being constantly active during the day with little movement at night compared to the nocturnally active wild stingrays; The fed stingrays utilized significantly (p<0.05) smaller 24 hour activity spaces compared to wild conspecifics, staying in close proximity to the ecotourism site; Fed stingrays showed a high degree of overlap in their core activity spaces compared to wild stingrays which were largely solitary in the spaces utilized (72% vs. 3% overlap respectively). Supplemental feeding has strikingly altered movement behavior and spatial distribution of the stingrays, and generated an atypically high density of animals at SCS which could have downstream fitness costs for individuals and potentially broader ecosystem effects. These findings should help environmental managers plan mitigating measures for existing operations, and develop precautionary policies regarding proposed feeding sites.

Concepts: Natural environment, Dasyatis, Wildlife, Stingray, Southern stingray, Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Dasyatidae


BACKGROUND: Aleutian mink disease virus (AMDV) is widespread among ranched and free-ranging American mink in Canada, but there is no information on its prevalence in other wild animal species. This paper describes the prevalence of AMDV of 12 furbearing species in Nova Scotia (NS), Canada. METHODS: Samples were collected from carcasses of 462 wild animals of 12 furbearing species, trapped in 10 NS counties between November 2009 and February 2011. Viral DNA was tested by PCR using two primer pairs, and anti-viral antibodies were tested by counterimmunoelectrophoresis (CIEP) on spleen homogenates. RESULTS: Positive PCR or CIEP samples were detected in 56 of 60 (93.3%) American mink, 43 of 61 (70.5%) short-tailed weasels, 2 of 8 (25.0%) striped skunks, 2 of 11 (18.2%) North American river otters, 9 of 85 (10.6%) raccoons, and 2 of 20 (10.0%) bobcats. Samples from six fishers, 24 coyotes, 25 red foxes, 58 beavers, 45 red-squirrels and 59 muskrats were negative. Antibodies to AMDV were detected by CIEP in 16 of 56 (28.6%) mink and one of the 8 skunks (12.5%). Thirteen of the mink and one skunk were positive for PCR and CIEP, but three mink and one skunk were CIEP positive and PCR negative. Positive CIEP or PCR animals were present in all nine counties from which mink or weasel samples were collected. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of AMDV in so many species across the province has important epidemiological ramifications and could pose a serious health problem for the captive mink, as well as for susceptible wildlife. The mechanism of virus transmission between wildlife and captive mink and the effects of AMDV exposure on the viability of the susceptible species deserve further investigation.

Concepts: Mustelidae, Carnivora, Wildlife


ABSTRACT The majority of emerging zoonoses originate in wildlife, and many are caused by viruses. However, there are no rigorous estimates of total viral diversity (here termed “virodiversity”) for any wildlife species, despite the utility of this to future surveillance and control of emerging zoonoses. In this case study, we repeatedly sampled a mammalian wildlife host known to harbor emerging zoonotic pathogens (the Indian Flying Fox, Pteropus giganteus) and used PCR with degenerate viral family-level primers to discover and analyze the occurrence patterns of 55 viruses from nine viral families. We then adapted statistical techniques used to estimate biodiversity in vertebrates and plants and estimated the total viral richness of these nine families in P.¬†giganteus to be 58 viruses. Our analyses demonstrate proof-of-concept of a strategy for estimating viral richness and provide the first statistically supported estimate of the number of undiscovered viruses in a mammalian host. We used a simple extrapolation to estimate that there are a minimum of 320,000 mammalian viruses awaiting discovery within these nine families, assuming all species harbor a similar number of viruses, with minimal turnover between host species. We estimate the cost of discovering these viruses to be ~$6.3 billion (or ~$1.4 billion for 85% of the total diversity), which if annualized over a 10-year study time frame would represent a small fraction of the cost of many pandemic zoonoses. IMPORTANCE Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in viral discovery efforts. However, most lack rigorous systematic design, which limits our ability to understand viral diversity and its ecological drivers and reduces their value to public health intervention. Here, we present a new framework for the discovery of novel viruses in wildlife and use it to make the first-ever estimate of the number of viruses that exist in a mammalian host. As pathogens continue to emerge from wildlife, this estimate allows us to put preliminary bounds around the potential size of the total zoonotic pool and facilitates a better understanding of where best to allocate resources for the subsequent discovery of global viral diversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Statistics, Mathematics, Species, Estimation, Wildlife, Zoonosis, Pteropus


Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a very important disease of cattle in Great Britain, where it has been increasing in incidence and geographical distribution. In addition to cattle, it infects other species of domestic and wild animals, in particular the European badger (Meles meles). Policy to control bTB is vigorously debated and contentious because of its implications for the livestock industry and because some policy options involve culling badgers, the most important wildlife reservoir. This paper describes a project to provide a succinct summary of the natural science evidence base relevant to the control of bTB, couched in terms that are as policy-neutral as possible. Each evidence statement is placed into one of four categories describing the nature of the underlying information. The evidence summary forms the appendix to this paper and an annotated bibliography is provided in the electronic supplementary material.

Concepts: Natural environment, Cattle, Nature, Wildlife, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers


Evading detection by predators is crucial for survival. Camouflage is therefore a widespread adaptation, but despite substantial research effort our understanding of different camouflage strategies has relied predominantly on artificial systems and on experiments disregarding how camouflage is perceived by predators. Here we show for the first time in a natural system, that survival probability of wild animals is directly related to their level of camouflage as perceived by the visual systems of their main predators. Ground-nesting plovers and coursers flee as threats approach, and their clutches were more likely to survive when their egg contrast matched their surrounds. In nightjars - which remain motionless as threats approach - clutch survival depended on plumage pattern matching between the incubating bird and its surrounds. Our findings highlight the importance of pattern and luminance based camouflage properties, and the effectiveness of modern techniques in capturing the adaptive properties of visual phenotypes.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Egg, Bird, Hunting, Pattern recognition, Wildlife, Feather


Greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) lead human honey-hunters to wild bees' nests, in a rare example of a mutualistic foraging partnership between humans and free-living wild animals. We show experimentally that a specialized vocal sound made by Mozambican honey-hunters seeking bees' nests elicits elevated cooperative behavior from honeyguides. The production of this sound increased the probability of being guided by a honeyguide from about 33 to 66% and the overall probability of thus finding a bees' nest from 17 to 54%, as compared with other animal or human sounds of similar amplitude. These results provide experimental evidence that a wild animal in a natural setting responds adaptively to a human signal of cooperation.

Concepts: Symbiosis, Natural environment, Bird, Indicator, Wildlife, Honeyguide, Greater Honeyguide, Honeyguides


There is a need to increase people’s engagement with and connection to nature, both for human well-being and the conservation of nature itself. In order to suggest ways for people to engage with nature and create a wider social context to normalise nature engagement, The Wildlife Trusts developed a mass engagement campaign, 30 Days Wild. The campaign asked people to engage with nature every day for a month. 12,400 people signed up for 30 Days Wild via an online sign-up with an estimated 18,500 taking part overall, resulting in an estimated 300,000 engagements with nature by participants. Samples of those taking part were found to have sustained increases in happiness, health, connection to nature and pro-nature behaviours. With the improvement in health being predicted by the improvement in happiness, this relationship was mediated by the change in connection to nature.

Concepts: Marriage, Engagement, Wildlife, Engagement ring


Wildlife conservation in human-dominated landscapes requires that we understand how animals, when making habitat-use decisions, obtain diverse and dynamically occurring resources while avoiding risks, induced by both natural predators and anthropogenic threats. Little is known about the underlying processes that enable wild animals to persist in densely populated human-dominated landscapes, particularly in developing countries. In a complex, semi-arid, fragmented, human-dominated agricultural landscape, we analyzed the habitat-use of blackbuck, a large herbivore endemic to the Indian sub-continent. We hypothesized that blackbuck would show flexible habitat-use behaviour and be risk averse when resource quality in the landscape is high, and less sensitive to risk otherwise. Overall, blackbuck appeared to be strongly influenced by human activity and they offset risks by using small protected patches (~3 km2) when they could afford to do so. Blackbuck habitat use varied dynamically corresponding with seasonally-changing levels of resources and risks, with protected habitats registering maximum use. The findings show that human activities can strongly influence and perhaps limit ungulate habitat-use and behaviour, but spatial heterogeneity in risk, particularly the presence of refuges, can allow ungulates to persist in landscapes with high human and livestock densities.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Decision making, Risk, Population density, Human behavior, Wildlife


Many wildlife species face imminent extinction because of human impacts, and therefore, a prevailing belief is that some wildlife species, particularly large carnivores and ungulates, cannot coexist with people at fine spatial scales (i.e., cannot regularly use the exact same point locations). This belief provides rationale for various conservation programs, such as resettling human communities outside protected areas. However, quantitative information on the capacity and mechanisms for wildlife to coexist with humans at fine spatial scales is scarce. Such information is vital, because the world is becoming increasingly crowded. Here, we provide empirical information about the capacity and mechanisms for tigers (a globally endangered species) to coexist with humans at fine spatial scales inside and outside Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, a flagship protected area for imperiled wildlife. Information obtained from field cameras in 2010 and 2011 indicated that human presence (i.e., people on foot and vehicles) was ubiquitous and abundant throughout the study site; however, tiger density was also high. Surprisingly, even at a fine spatial scale (i.e., camera locations), tigers spatially overlapped with people on foot and vehicles in both years. However, in both years, tigers offset their temporal activity patterns to be much less active during the day when human activity peaked. In addition to temporal displacement, tiger-human coexistence was likely enhanced by abundant tiger prey and low levels of tiger poaching. Incorporating fine-scale spatial and temporal activity patterns into conservation plans can help address a major global challenge-meeting human needs while sustaining wildlife.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Species, Endangered species, Hunting, Wildlife, Tiger, Poaching