The Influence of Human Activities and Land Use on Apex Predator Species in the Ewaso Ecosystem

Mary Burak
Oswald Schmitz
Start Date: 
June, 2019

East Africa hosts some of the largest remaining free-ranging predator populations in the world. In particular, the Ewaso Ecosystem of Kenya is home to a comprehensive ensemble of apex predators that are critical for balanced ecosystem function and a lucrative tourism industry: the African lion (Panthera leo) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), and smaller numbers of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and leopard (Panthera pardus). However, these apex predator populations are experiencing high rates of declines due to human population growth and resultant land use change. At the same time, local communities are experiencing human-predator conflict through livestock depredation. Thus, tension remains high surrounding tradeoffs between predator conservation and human land development. The aim of my dissertation is to understand the spatial and genetic effects of human activity on apex predator populations, and to address the need for human-predator conflict mitigation through land management planning. In Chapter 1, I will assess how predator occupancy and movement is spatially organized across a human activity gradient by observing predator presence across the ecosystem. In Chapter 2, I will investigate how varying types of human activity influence the genetic variability of apex predator populations by conducting a landscape genetic analysis on scat collections. In Chapter 3, I will draw on these previous insights to develop realistic land use schemes and to model the effects of these schemes on future apex predator population viability in the Ewaso Ecosystem. This study will improve our understanding of how human activity can influence apex predator occupancy, movement, and genetic diversity, as well as shed light on the advantages of applying these insights to land management schemes in order to support predator conservation within human communities.