TitleWhy did the buffalo cross the park? Resource shortages, but not infections, drive dispersal in female African buffalo ().
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSpaan, RS, Epps, CW, Ezenwa, VO, Jolles, AE
JournalEcol Evol
Date Published2019 May

Dispersal facilitates population health and maintains resilience in species via gene flow. Adult dispersal occurs in some species, is often facultative, and is poorly understood, but has important management implications, particularly with respect to disease spread. Although the role of adult dispersal in spreading disease has been documented, the potential influence of disease on dispersal has received little attention. African buffalo () are wide-ranging and harbor many pathogens that can affect nearby livestock. Dispersal of adult buffalo has been described, but ecological and social drivers of buffalo dispersal are poorly understood. We investigated drivers of adult buffalo dispersal during a 4-year longitudinal study at Kruger National Park, South Africa. We monitored the spatial movement of 304 female buffalo in two focal areas using satellite and radio collars, capturing each buffalo every 6 months to assess animal traits and disease status. We used generalized linear mixed models to determine whether likelihood of dispersal for individual female buffalo was influenced by animal traits, herd identity, environmental variables, gastrointestinal parasites, or microparasite infections. The likelihood and drivers of buffalo dispersal varied by herd, area, and year. In the Lower Sabie herd, where resources were abundant, younger individuals were more likely to disperse, with most dispersal occurring in the early wet season and during an unusually dry year, 2009. In the resource-poor Crocodile Bridge area, buffalo in poor condition were most likely to disperse. Our findings suggest that dispersal of female buffalo is driven by either seasonal (Lower Sabie) or perhaps social (Crocodile Bridge) resource restriction, indicating resource limitation and dispersal decisions are tightly linked for this social ungulate. We found no direct effects of infections on buffalo dispersal, assuaging fears that highly infectious individuals might be more prone to dispersing, which could accelerate the spatial spread of infectious diseases.

Alternate JournalEcol Evol
PubMed ID31160988
PubMed Central IDPMC6540691