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Common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) are positively associated with humans and forest degradation with implications for seed dispersal and zoonotic diseases

Citation

Dehaudt, Bastien et al. (2022), Common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) are positively associated with humans and forest degradation with implications for seed dispersal and zoonotic diseases, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.8cz8w9gs1

Abstract

Habitat loss and degradation can undermine wildlife communities and ecosystem functioning. However, certain generalist wildlife species like mesopredators and omnivores can exploit these disturbed habitats, sometimes leading to population increases (e.g., “mesopredator release” in degraded areas). Although mesopredator release may cause negative effects on food webs and zoonotic disease management, some disturbance-tolerant species may help perpetuate important ecological interactions, such as seed dispersal.

We evaluated the habitat associations of common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), which are widespread generalist mesopredators in Southeast Asia. Common palm civets are also high-quality seed dispersers, and potential zoonotic disease hosts.

We used published and new camera trapping data to map their probability of presence across Southeast Asia and evaluate regional-scale associations between capture rates and habitat variables such as elevation, ecoregion intactness, and Human Footprint Index, among others. We also assessed the influence of habitat variables on their relative abundance at the local scale.

At the regional scale, we found that common palm civets showed significant positive associations with landscapes characterized by lower ecoregion intactness, higher Human Footprint Index, and lower elevations. At the local scale, their relative abundance showed a significant positive association with higher Human Footprint Index, but only to a certain point, after which it started decreasing. They also favored lower elevations at the local scale.

These multi-scale results indicate that common palm civets’ abundance can increase under certain levels of human disturbances, consistent with the “mesopredator release” hypothesis. This suggests they may be crucial seed dispersers in degraded forest landscapes, especially where more sensitive seed dispersers have disappeared. Our results are also consistent with previous studies reporting that habitat degradation increases populations of potential zoonotic disease hosts, and thus risks of transmission to humans.

Methods

Data collected through a review and using camera traps.