Macro-habitat preferences by the African manatee and crocodiles – ecological and conservation implications
- 1Environmental Studies Centre Demetra s.r.l. and Eni s.p.a. Environmental Department, corresponding address: via Olona 7, 00198 Roma, Italy
- 2Department of Applied and Environmental Biology, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, P.M.B. 5080, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria
- 3National Research Council (CNR), Institute of Ecosystem Studies, viale dell'Università 32, 00185 Roma, Italy
Abstract. African manatees (Trichechus senegalensis) and crocodiles are threatened species in parts of their range. In West Africa, crocodiles may constitute the main predators for manatees apart from humans. Here, we explore the macro-habitat selection of manatees and two species of crocodiles (West African crocodiles Crocodylus suchus and dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis) in the Niger Delta (Nigeria), testing the hypotheses that (i) manatees may avoid crocodiles in order to minimize risks of predation, and (ii) the two crocodile species do compete. The study was carried out between 1994 and 2010 with a suite of different field techniques. We observed that the main macro-habitat types were freshwater rivers and coastal lagoons for manatees, mangroves for West African crocodiles, and rivers and creeks for dwarf crocodiles, with (i) the three species differing significantly in terms of their macro-habitat type selection, and (ii) significant seasonal influence on habitat selection of each species. Null models for niche overlap showed a significantly lower overlap in macro-habitat type use between manatee and crocodiles, whereas the two crocodiles were relatively similar. Null model analyses did not indicate any competitive interactions between crocodiles. On the other hand, manatees avoided macro-habitats where crocodiles, and especially West African crocodiles, are abundant.