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van Eeden, R., Whitfield, D.P., Botha, A. and Amar, A. 2017. Ranging behaviour and habitat preferences of the Martial Eagle: Implications for the conservation of a declining apex predator. PLoS ONE, 12(3): e0173956


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Ranging behaviour and habitat preferences of the Martial Eagle: Implications for the conservation of a declining apex predator.

Summary / Notes:

Understanding the ranging behaviours of species can be helpful in effective conservation planning. However, for many species that are rare, occur at low densities, or occupy challenging environments, this information is often lacking. The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is a low density apex predator declining in both non-protected and protected areas in southern Africa, and little is known about its ranging behaviour. We use GPS tags fitted to Martial Eagles (n = 8) in Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa to describe their ranging behaviour and habitat preference. This represents the first time that such movements have been quantified in adult Martial Eagles. Territorial eagles (n = 6) held home ranges averaging ca. 108 km2. Home range estimates were similar to expectations based on inter-nest distances, and these large home range sizes could constrain the carrying capacity of even the largest conservation areas. Two tagged individuals classed as adults on plumage apparently did not hold a territory, and accordingly ranged more widely (ca. 44,000 km2), and beyond KNP boundaries as floaters. Another two territorial individuals abandoned their territories and joined the ‘floater’ population, and so ranged widely after leaving their territories. These unexpected movements after territory abandonment could indicate underlying environmental degradation. Relatively high mortality of these wide-ranging ‘floaters’ due to anthropogenic causes (three of four) raises further concerns for the species’ persistence. Habitat preference models suggested Martial Eagles used areas preferentially that were closer to rivers, had higher tree cover, and were classed as dense bush rather than open bush or grassland. These results can be used by conservation managers to help guide actions to preserve breeding Martial Eagles at an appropriate spatial scale.

Year: 2017

Type: Journal Article

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