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The consequences of body size dimorphism: are African elephants sexually segregated at the habitat scale?

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Sexual segregation is a commonly observed phenomenon in dimorphic ungulates, which has been categorised into two distinct components: social segregation and habitat segregation. In this study we investigated whether elephants were sexually segregated at the habitat scale. The locations of 12 family groups and 16 males, in three distinct populations were recorded over a period of 2.5 years. Selection ratios were calculated for each habitat type and a Kendall's coefficient of concordance was used for the analyses. The habitat and foraging preferences were firstly tested for concordance within sex, and then between the sexes. Female habitat preferences showed significant concordance across all reserves and they also exhibited strong concordance in their summer foraging preferences. Their weakest association with habitat and foraging preference was during winter, which may be related to resource scarcity. Males exhibited significant concordance in their habitat preferences in two out of the three reserves. They had their weakest associations in the summer months and this may be linked to avoidance of other males in musth and the abundance of forage. There were no significant differences in habitat preference between males and females and it is likely that individual preferences vary as much within sex as between sexes. Differential habitat utilisation does not appear to be driving sexual segregation in elephants and it is postulated that sociality, divergent reproductive strategies and foraging behaviour at the plant scale play a more significant role. The results of this study highlight the importance of scale in elucidating the mechanisms involved in sexual segregation.


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