Date of Award
M.S. in Biological Science
Jason D. Hoeksema
The Baird’s tapir, the largest terrestrial mammal in Central America and a crucial seed disperser and ecosystem engineer, has experienced a 50% loss of habitat in its geographic range during the past 30 years. Efforts to conserve this species need to consider factors that have contributed to its endangerment, such as how human presence and human-mediated habitat change may influence tapir behavior, body condition, and disease susceptibility. In this thesis I had two goals: 1) understand how human disturbance affects tapir activity patterns, and 2) noninvasively determine the association of disturbance with tapir health. I first compared the activity patterns of tapirs, humans, and jaguars between sites with and without timber extraction and between camera stations varying in human activity. Second, I investigated the association of human activity with putative parasite counts found in field-collected feces and the relationship of putative parasite counts to tapir body condition. As part of the parasitological study I compared parasites from tapirs with those found in domestic animals, and I compared the effectiveness of ethanol and formalin for long-term preservation of fecal samples. Tapir activity did not significantly differ relative to timber extraction or human activity. Tapirs were nocturnal in all sites with >80% of all tapir captures occurring between 1900 and 0500 hours; however, the occasional occurrence of daytime activity at all study sites suggests the potential for tapir habituation to, or tolerance of humans. While human activity was moderately correlated with a reduction in body condition, the associations between human activity and parasite load, and parasite load and body condition were not significant. There are similarities in parasite eggs and worms from tapir fecal samples to those typically found in horses, but not those of cattle. Formalin-stored samples exhibited higher parasite richness and averaged more total eggs than ethanol-stored samples; however, the total worms found did not significantly differ between the chemicals. Given the connection between human activity and negative health outcomes for tapirs in protected areas of Northwestern Belize, research needs to expand to encompass the more fragmented habitat that tapirs may utilize across their range.
Monette, Victoria Diane, "Ecological Factors Associated with Habitat Use of Baird’s Tapirs (Tapirus Bairdii)" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1645.