'Female of Species Can Influence Habitat Connectivity'

'Female of Species Can Influence Habitat Connectivity'

BENGALURU:  Courting female tigers, leopards, elephants or any other species in the wild actually influence a population in a habitat.

New research findings by wildlife biologists has revealed how ‘mate choices’ by females can determine how animals can join new populations as they move across landscapes.

In fact, while seeking mates in the wild, the female species can influence habitat connectivity. This simulation-based research study is applicable to species that are intelligent and exhibit marked behaviour.

Researchers add that females may also look for a degree of familiarity in mates. For populations that have adapted to local environmental conditions, familiarity relates directly to an ability to survive. On the other hand, due to inbreeding and associated costs of mating with close relatives, females may actually prefer mating with dispersers (which is an animal that moves from one population to another).

According to a new study published by scientists Dr Divya Vasudev at the Wildlife Conservation Society, India Program and Prof Rob Fletcher of University of Florida, USA, the mate choice by females can determine how dispersing animals can join new populations. Further studies have shown that it can lead to isolated populations even in landscapes with continuous habitats. Using individual-based simulations, the scientists theoretically modelled mate choice and dispersal in animals across multiple generations. They showed that even when animals could disperse freely through contiguous habitats, mate choice alone could lead to isolated populations if females avoided mating with dispersers. Thus, mate choice issue, could further accentuate negative consequences of habitat fragmentation, resulting in unexpected occurrences of isolated populations based on habitat maps and apparent corridors.

The study throws up a number of questions on the ecological constraints to habitat connectivity, and highlights the need for further research. In landscape-scale conservation programs worldwide, connectivity is a critical factor. However, little is known about the influence of behaviour of dispersing animals and their fate after they immigrate into new populations. “Ultimately, better conservation will depend on better understanding of real connectivity in fragmented landscapes,” concludes Dr Divya Vasudev.  “This study is a milestone in applying advanced quantitative methods to practical conservation issues relevant to India,” said Dr Ullas Karanth, Director for Science Asia, for WCS.

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The New Indian Express