Elephant movement in response to changes in rainfall patterns can be used to determine biologically relevant boundaries between seasons, as opposed to commonly used arbitrary definitions of seasons. The full report is published June 27 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
Elephant movement patterns are known to be affected by seasonal changes in rainfall. In different years, though, rainfall patterns can vary, and it can be difficult to determine seasonal boundaries, so the authors of the study, led by Patricia Birkett of the Amarula Elephant Research Programme at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, investigated the correlation between elephant movements and rainfall by tracking the movement speed of 14 female elephants in Kruger National Park from 2006 to 2010. They found that the speed changed sharply at the end of both the wet and dry seasons each year, suggesting that movement patterns could provide an objective definition of seasonal boundaries. Birkettt explains, "These seasonal boundaries are relevant to the specific aspects of the environment that we are interested in understanding or managing."
Citation: Birkett PJ, Vanak AT, Muggeo VMR, Ferreira SM, Slotow R (2012) Animal Perception of Seasonal Thresholds: Changes in Elephant Movement in Relation to Rainfall Patterns. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38363. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038363
Financial Disclosure: Funding for this study was received through a donation from the Amarula Trust (http://www.amarulatrust.com/). UKZN and The National Research Foundation, South Africa, provided funding for PJB (GUN: 61470 to RS) (http://www.nrf.ac.za/) and a post-doctoral fellowship to ATV. There are no constraints from the funders on use or dissemination of the data, or influence on the results or conclusions. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: Dr. Sam Ferreira is a research manager and employee of SANParks Scientific Services, Kruger National Park. There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.
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