Anthropogenic activity may cause changes in species assemblages and affect top-down and bottom-up processes. As part of Hamaarag's National Terrestrial Biodiversity Monitoring Program, camera traps were used to collect data on multiple large mammal species. The data was used to unfold new insights on changes in large mammal densities, distribution, and species assemblages in relation to proximity to human infrastructure (settlements and agriculture). Eleven ecological units along Israel’s steep climatic gradient were monitored , from north to south: herbaceous and dwarf scrubland, planted conifer forest in the Mediterranean zone (Judean Highlands, Mt. Carmel, Galilee), Mediterranean Maquis (Judean Highlands, Mt. Carmel, Galilee), Mediterranean-desert transition zone, planted conifer forests in the arid zone, Negev highland desert and Arava arid desert. Nine cameras were placed for 10 consecutive days at 80 plots across Israel, during two monitoring cycles (2012-2014 and 2015-2016), resulting in 720 camera traps pr. monitoring cycle and over 14,000 camera nights. To estimate species densities in relation to spatial predictors while accounting for imperfect detection, encounter data on 13 mammal species were fitted to individual species N-mixture models. Species estimations were thereafter used in non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) based on Bray-Curtis dissimilarity, to evaluate dissimilarity in species assemblages among ecological units and proximity to anthropogenic activity. Mammal species varied in their response to anthropogenic infrastructure: Generalist meso-canid species (golden jackal and red fox) and omnivorous wild boars were found in extreme large numbers near anthropogenic infrastructure, while species such as the endangered mountain gazelle and Dorcas gazelle, were negatively affected by human activity. Extreme over abundant meso-carnivores populations in mosaic landscapes, such as Israel’s northern Mediterranean region, may push sensitive prey species to small isolated patches surrounded by humans and predators, while in southern arid areas, expansion of agriculture and settlements may further increase meso-carnivores populations affecting the ability of prey species to occupy and use such areas.
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