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Population surveys of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) in the Murchison Falls National Park, Victoria Nile, Uganda

Abstract

1. A 12-month-long survey (April 2013 to March 2014) for Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) was conducted along a section of the Victoria Nile/Ramsar site of Murchison Falls National Park, in order to update the historic information on crocodile populations in the area, locating nesting areas, determining seasonality patterns and habitat use, and assess the current abundance and the population size trends since the 1960s. The methods employed included visual encounter surveys, transect counts and opportunistic methods, by using boats. 2. In general, there were diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in the number of crocodile sightings. The crocodile sightings peaked between the months of June and August, with the highest mean number of sightings encountered on any single day being 67 (in July 2013), and the second peak was between January and March with the highest mean of 118 recorded in January 2014. The second peak also coincided with the crocodile breeding season. This clearly shows that the distribution of the sub-population sampled followed a climatic regime. 3. Crocodiles were observed most frequently in water (37%). Grassy banks, islands, river mouths and sandy banks constituted about 47% of the habitats utilised by the crocodile population. Although basking was the most frequent type of activity performed by crocodiles (50%) over the entire survey period, their key activities varied significantly from month to month. Nesting was very visible during the last quarter of the year and the first quarter of the New Year. 4. There was a clear decline of the abundance of crocodiles in this population between 1960s and nowadays. This declining trend was obvious also taking into account the various survey methodologies employed over the decades.

Open access
The evolutionary ecology of interactive synchronism: the illusion of the optimal phenotype

Abstract

In this article, we discuss some ecological-evolutionary strategies that allow synchronization of organisms, resources, and conditions. Survival and reproduction require synchronization of life cycles of organisms with favourable environmental and ecological features and conditions. This interactive synchronization can occur directly, through pairwise or diffuse co-evolution, or indirectly, for example, as a result of actions of ecosystem engineers and facilitator species. Observations of specific interactions, especially those which have coevolved, may give the false impression that evolution results in optimal genotypes or phenotypes. However, some phenotypes may arise under evolutionary constraints, such as simultaneous evolution of multiple traits, lack of a chain of fit transitional forms leading to an optimal phenotype, or by limits inherent in the process of selection, set by the number of selective deaths and by interference between linked variants. Although there are no optimal phenotypes, optimization models applied to particular species may be useful for a better understanding of the nature of adaptations. The evolution of adaptive strategies results in variable life histories. These strategies can minimize adverse impacts on the fitness of extreme or severe environmental conditions on survival and reproduction, and may include reproductive strategies such as semelparity and iteroparity, or morphological, physiological, or behavioural traits such as diapause, seasonal polyphenism, migration, or bet-hedging. However, natural selection cannot indefinitely maintain intra-population variation, and lack of variation can ultimately extinguish populations.

Open access
The Devil in the Deep: Expanding the Known Habitat of a Rare and Protected Fish

Abstract

The accepted geographic range of a species is related to both opportunity and effort in sampling that range. In deepwater ecosystems where human access is limited, the geographic ranges of many marine species are likely to be underestimated. A chance recording from baited cameras deployed on deep uncharted reef revealed an eastern blue devil fish (Paraplesiops bleekeri) at a depth of 51 m and more than 2 km further down the continental shelf slope than previously observed. This is the first verifiable observation of eastern blue devil fish, a protected and endemic southeastern Australian temperate reef species, at depths greater than the typically accepted depth range of 30 m. Knowledge on the ecology of this and many other reef species is indeed often limited to shallow coastal reefs, which are easily accessible by divers and researchers. Suitable habitat for many reef species appears to exist on deeper offshore reefs but is likely being overlooked due to the logistics of conducting research on these often uncharted habitats. On the basis of our observation at a depth of 51 m and observations by recreational fishers catching eastern blue devil fishes on deep offshore reefs, we suggest that the current depth range of eastern blue devil fish is being underestimated at 30 m. We also observed several common reef species well outside of their accepted depth range. Notably, immaculate damsel (Mecaenichthys immaculatus), red morwong (Cheilodactylus fuscus), mado (Atypichthys strigatus), white-ear (Parma microlepis) and silver sweep (Scorpis lineolata) were abundant and recorded in a number of locations at up to a depth of at least 55 m. This underestimation of depth potentially represents a large area of deep offshore reefs and micro-habitats out on the continental shelf that could contribute to the resilience of eastern blue devil fish to extinction risk and contribute to the resilience of many reef species to climate change

Open access