Kamala tree as an indicator of the presence of Asian elephants

ABSTRACT

The availability of forage resources during the dry season is often a critical factor in determining thedistribution and movement of large herbivores. It has long been suspected that the Kamala tree (Mallotusphilippinensis) can serve as an indicator of the distribution for Asian elephants during the dry season innorthwestern India. However, there is little direct evidence in support of this speculation, especially ata large landscape scale. Here, we predicted the distribution of Kamala trees in the Shivalik landscape ofnorthwestern India based on topographic and bioclimatic variables, as well as satellite-derived vegetationindices and forest canopy height data using a presence-only ecological niche model. We used the areaunder the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) and true skill statistic (TSS) to validate the model.We then examined the relationship between the occurrence probability of Kamala trees and the presenceof Asian elephants with data collected during dry seasons between 2010 and 2014 using logistic regressionmodels. Our results showed that the probability of occurrence of Kamala trees was predicted with goodaccuracy (AUC = 0.88 and TSS = 0.51). The logistic regression models showed that the presence of Asianelephants can be adequately predicted by the occurrence probability of Kamala trees. This result suggeststhat the distribution of Kamala trees is a good indicator of the presence of Asian elephants during thedry season in the Shivalik landscape. These findings may have major implications for the conservation ofAsian elephants, especially in designing wildlife corridors and mitigating human-elephant conflicts.

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