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  1. Yue, Bi-Song (Ed.)
    Large mammalian herbivores use a diverse array of strategies to survive predator encounters including flight, grouping, vigilance, warning signals, and fitness indicators. While anti-predator strategies appear to be driven by specific predator traits, no prior studies have rigorously evaluated whether predator hunting characteristics predict reactive anti-predator responses. We experimentally investigated behavioral decisions made by free-ranging impala, wildebeest, and zebra during encounters with model predators with different functional traits. We hypothesized that the choice of response would be driven by a predator’s hunting style (i.e., ambush vs. coursing) while the intensity at which the behavior was performed would correlate with predator traits that contribute to the prey’s relative risk (i.e., each predator’s prey preference, prey-specific capture success, and local predator density). We found that the choice and intensity of anti-predator behaviors were both shaped by hunting style and relative risk factors. All prey species directed longer periods of vigilance towards predators with higher capture success. The decision to flee was the only behavior choice driven by predator characteristics (capture success and hunting style) while intensity of vigilance, frequency of alarm-calling, and flight latency were modulated based on predator hunting strategy and relative risk level. Impala regulated only the intensity of theirmore »behaviors, while zebra and wildebeest changed both type and intensity of response based on predator traits. Zebra and impala reacted to multiple components of predation threat, while wildebeest responded solely to capture success. Overall, our findings suggest that certain behaviors potentially facilitate survival under specific contexts and that prey responses may reflect the perceived level of predation risk, suggesting that adaptive functions to reactive anti-predator behaviors may reflect potential trade-offs to their use. The strong influence of prey species identity and social and environmental context suggest that these factors may interact with predator traits to determine the optimal response to immediate predation threat.« less
  2. Camera traps - remote cameras that capture images of passing wildlife - have become a ubiquitous tool in ecology and conservation. Systematic camera trap surveys generate ‘Big Data’ across broad spatial and temporal scales, providing valuable information on environmental and anthropogenic factors affecting vulnerable wildlife populations. However, the sheer number of images amassed can quickly outpace researchers’ ability to manually extract data from these images (e.g., species identities, counts, and behaviors) in timeframes useful for making scientifically-guided conservation and management decisions. Here, we present ‘Snapshot Safari’ as a case study for merging citizen science and machine learning to rapidly generate highly accurate ecological Big Data from camera trap surveys. Snapshot Safari is a collaborative cross-continental research and conservation effort with 1500+ cameras deployed at over 40 eastern and southern Africa protected areas, generating millions of images per year. As one of the first and largest-scale camera trapping initiatives, Snapshot Safari spearheaded innovative developments in citizen science and machine learning. We highlight the advances made and discuss the issues that arose using each of these methods to annotate camera trap data. We end by describing how we combined human and machine classification methods (‘Crowd AI’) to create an efficient integrated datamore »pipeline. Ultimately, by using a feedback loop in which humans validate machine learning predictions and machine learning algorithms are iteratively retrained on new human classifications, we can capitalize on the strengths of both methods of classification while mitigating the weaknesses. Using Crowd AI to quickly and accurately ‘unlock’ ecological Big Data for use in science and conservation is revolutionizing the way we take on critical environmental issues in the Anthropocene era.« less
  3. Understanding the role of species interactions within communities is a central focus of ecology. A key challenge is to understand variation in species interactions along environmental gradients. The stress gradient hypothesis posits that positive interactions increase and competitive interactions decrease with increasing consumer pressure or environmental stress. This hypothesis has received extensive attention in plant community ecology, but only a handful of tests in animals. Furthermore, few empirical studies have examined multiple co‐occurring stressors. Here we test predictions of the stress gradient hypothesis using the occurrence of mixed‐species groups in six common grazing ungulate species within the Serengeti‐Mara ecosystem. We use mixed‐species groups as a proxy for potential positive interactions because they may enhance protection from predators or increase access to high‐quality forage. Alternatively, competition for resources may limit the formation of mixed‐species groups. Using more than 115,000 camera trap observations collected over 5 yr, we found that mixed‐species groups were more likely to occur in risky areas (i.e., areas closer to lion vantage points and in woodland habitat where lions hunt preferentially) and during time periods when resource levels were high. These results are consistent with the interpretation that stress from high predation risk may contribute to the formationmore »of mixed‐species groups, but that competition for resources may prevent their formation when food availability is low. Our results are consistent with support for the stress gradient hypothesis in animals along a consumer pressure gradient while identifying the potential influence of a co‐occurring stressor, thus providing a link between research in plant community ecology on the stress gradient hypothesis, and research in animal ecology on trade‐offs between foraging and risk in landscapes of fear.« less
  4. Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a multi-host pathogen with variable clinical outcomes of infection across and within species. We used whole-genome sequencing (WGS) to search for viral markers correlated with clinical distemper in African lions. To identify candidate markers, we first documented single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) differentiating CDV strains associated with different clinical outcomes in lions in East Africa. We then conducted evolutionary analyses on WGS from all global CDV lineages to identify loci subject to selection. SNPs that both differentiated East African strains and were under selection were mapped to a phylogenetic tree representing global CDV diversity to assess if candidate markers correlated with documented outbreaks of clinical distemper in lions (n = 3). Of 54 SNPs differentiating East African strains, ten were under positive or episodic diversifying selection and 20 occurred in the clinical strain despite strong purifying selection at those loci. Candidate markers were in functional domains of the RNP complex (n = 19), the matrix protein (n = 4), on CDV glycoproteins (n = 5), and on the V protein (n = 1). We found mutations at two loci in common between sequences from three CDV outbreaks of clinical distemper in African lions; one in the signalingmore »lymphocytic activation molecule receptor (SLAM)-binding region of the hemagglutinin protein and another in the catalytic center of phosphodiester bond formation on the large polymerase protein. These results suggest convergent evolution at these sites may have a functional role in clinical distemper outbreaks in African lions and uncover potential novel barriers to pathogenicity in this species.« less
  5. Abstract Is it possible to slow the rate of ageing, or do biological constraints limit its plasticity? We test the ‘invariant rate of ageing’ hypothesis, which posits that the rate of ageing is relatively fixed within species, with a collection of 39 human and nonhuman primate datasets across seven genera. We first recapitulate, in nonhuman primates, the highly regular relationship between life expectancy and lifespan equality seen in humans. We next demonstrate that variation in the rate of ageing within genera is orders of magnitude smaller than variation in pre-adult and age-independent mortality. Finally, we demonstrate that changes in the rate of ageing, but not other mortality parameters, produce striking, species-atypical changes in mortality patterns. Our results support the invariant rate of ageing hypothesis, implying biological constraints on how much the human rate of ageing can be slowed.