Damage to livestock and agriculture by predators does not occur equally across the landscape, but more frequently at certain locations. A new study found that brown bear damage to beehives can increase up to three times in apiaries located in a risky landscape – good for bears and beekeeping-, and peaks in apiaries near forests and without buildings around. Farmers can significantly decrease damages working in areas that predators avoid.
Human encroachment into natural areas forces large predators to thrive and survive in highly modified landscapes where they may end up killing livestock in their search for food. “If we look at the necessities of bears to establish a territory we will see that they need natural areas to some degree and try to avoid humans as much as possible,” said Carlos Bautista, leading author of the study. The research shows that farmers can use predators’ natural fear of humans to reduce the risk of predation. “The risk of damage drops more than threefold when beehives were at least 300m away from forest patches and close to buildings”, he added.
The study has applied a methodology never used before to predict the risk of damages. This new methodology tries to answer why certain locations of the landscape have a higher risk of damage than others using satellite images. “To understand and predict what farms are the more vulnerable ones we need to consider the characteristics of both, the landscape that encompasses predators’ territories and that of the close surroundings of the farms”, said Nuria Selva, main supervisor of the study. The novelty of the method lies in combining risk assessments at multiple scales into a high-resolution risk map. “Studies just focused on one single scale have a poor understanding of the ecological processes underlying this phenomenon and result in less accurate predictions”, she added.
Predation events cause economic and emotional problems to farmers who can eventually retaliate against the blamed animals, even when the species is legally protected. These conflicts usually reach the political arena at the local, regional and national levels, being a source of heated discussions between agriculture and nature conservation advocates. “Human-wildlife conflicts are considered one of the greatest threats for wildlife species today and involve also large herbivores like elephants, rhinos or primates”, said Bautista.
Conflicts are expected to grow due to the recovery and expansion of some large predator populations into human-dominated landscapes and due to the increasing transformation of natural areas into agriculture fields. The use of agricultural lands and urban areas by wild animals can become a live trap for them, eventually leading to local extinctions. “That is worrying because, in the absence of predators and large herbivores, natural ecosystems lose their “self-regulating” nature and that can aggravate the ongoing environmental crisis” concluded Selva.
Given the current human population growth, stopping agriculture expansion into natural areas and thus, the conflicts arising from it may be an unrealistic short-term goal. However, predicting where damages are more likely to occur and have a preventive attitude towards conflicts is something that farmers, conservation practitioners and policymakers can start doing today.
This study, just published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the fruit of a long-term collaboration between the Institute of Nature Conservation (Polish Academy of Sciences), the Doñana Biological Station (Spanish Council for Scientific Research) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).
For further information:
Carlos Bautista, researcher at the Institute of Nature Conservation –IOP PAN- and member of the Carpathian Brown Bear Project
Email: email@example.com; Phone: (+48) 666641191
Tweeter: @CarpathianB , @CBautistaLeon
Cite this article: Bautista C, Revilla E, Berezowska-Cnota T, Fernández N, Naves J, Selva N. 2021 Spatial ecology of conflicts: Unravelling patterns of wildlife damage at multiple scales. Proc. R. Soc. B 20211394. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rspb.2021.1394