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Le Roux, N.; Ferreira, S., 2020. Age structure changes indicate direct and indirect population impacts in illegally harvested black rhino. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0236790: 1-10 -

Location: Africa - Southern Africa - South Africa
Subject: Ecology
Species: African Rhino Species

Original text on this topic:
Overharvesting affects the size and growth of wildlife populations and can impact population trajectories. Overharvesting can also severely alter population structure and may result in changes in spatial organisation, social dynamics and recruitment. Understanding the relationship between overharvesting and population growth is therefore crucial for the recovery of exploited species. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis; black rhino) is a long-lived megaherbivore native to sub-Saharan Africa, listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Since 2009, the targeted illegal killing of rhino for their horns has escalated dramatically in South Africa. Given their slow life trajectories, spatial structure and social dynamics, black rhino may be susceptible to both direct and indirect impacts of overharvesting. Our study compared black rhino demography before and during extensive poaching to understand the impact of illegal killing. The population exhibited significant changes in age structure after four years of heavy poaching; these changes were primarily explained by a decrease in the proportion of calves over time. Population projections incorporating both direct poaching removals and decreased fecundity/recruitment were most similar to the observed demographic profile in 2018, suggesting that indirect impacts are also contributing to the observed population trajectory. These indirect impacts are likely a result of decreased density, through processes such as reduced mate-finding, population disturbance and/or increased calf predation. This study illustrates the combined effect of direct and indirect impacts on an endangered species, providing a more comprehensive approach by which to evaluate exploited populations.

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