Forest Elephants and Animal Behavior

African Forest Elephant Social Structure

Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclones) are a distinct species from African savanna elephants (L. africana), are smaller ,and frugivorous. They live in the rainforest habitats of West and Central Africa and make up one-third of the entire African elephant population, but are far less studied. Forest habitats make it difficult to monitor and manage populations, which is a concern because populations are currently under severe threat from poaching. These factors make forest elephants a priority for scientific merit and conservation value.

Space Use Patterns

With GPS satellite telemetry, I analyzed the movement patterns of six forest elephants in Loango National Park, Gabon. Surprisingly, their home ranges were very small (11-105 km squared) even though they were tracked for close to two years. They were also adjacent to one another with minimal overlap. This differs from many spatial patterns found in African savanna elephants, possibly as a result of difference in social structure. These results are published in Biotropica.

Social Network Analyses

I identified adult females and their group members to track which individuals they were grouping with over time. I also collected dung  to examine genetic relatedness between individuals in relation to their social patterns. Forest elephants associate in larger groups than are those from observations alone and groups appear to be based on matrilines, however the associations that take place are not nearly as intricate as those that occur in African savanna elephants and Asian elephants. These results are published in Endangered Species Research. 

DSC05754

Spatial Genetic Structure

Using elephant dung, I examined the relationship between spatial proximity and genetic relatedness between adult females in Lopé National Park, Gabon using spatial autocorrelation analysis and social networks. Genetic structure was not strong and diversity as represented by mitochondrial haplotypes within the area was high. When investigating the relationship between individuals as inferred from their grouping patterns from dung, I found that individuals were mostly associating with related individuals and of those of the same mitochondrial haplotype. These results are published in PLOS ONE