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New study from the Eggert lab shows elephants and humans can get along

May 22, 2013

The image shows Ahlering and a Kenyan man collecting a dung sample

Dr. Marissa Ahlering, lead author of the study and MU alumnus, collects dung samples from elephants in the southern Rift Valley province of Kenya.

People and elephants are coming into greater contact as human populations expand and protected habitats for elephants contract. Whether this increased contact with humans has a deleterious effect on elephants is the focus of a new study published in the 20 May issue of Conservation Biology.

The study compares the stress levels of elephants living in a Maasai Community Conservation Area (CCA) with elephants living in two protected areas. Elephant interactions with humans and domestic animals can occur daily in the CCA, but are less frequent in protected areas. The researchers assessed stress levels by measuring concentrations of steroid hormone metabolites from collected elephant dung. Levels of glucocorticoid metabolites increase when an animal is stressed. According to the report, no clear evidence of chronic stress was found in elephants living on the CCA. The surprising result is encouraging news for “conservation strategies promoting the protection of animals living outside protected areas,” say the authors.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Marissa Ahlering of The Nature Conservancy, is an alumna of MU’s Division of Biological Sciences. Ahlering completed her doctoral research with Dr. John Faaborg in 2005. She then did postdoctoral work with Dr. Lori Eggert, a co-author of the paper, and continued that work at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The research reported in this study is based on the research project she worked on while in the Eggert lab and at the Smithsonian.

The study is the focus of a Quick Study on Cool Green Science, the science blog of The Nature Conservancy.

The study, titled “Conservation outside protected areas and the effect of human-dominated landscapes on stress hormones in savannah elephants,” is available from Conservation Biology.

Related research strengths:
Ecology, Molecular Biology
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