Large mammal community composition and density under a disturbance gradient in Northeast Costa Rica
Large mammal communities, integral components of Neotropical ecosystems, are increasingly threatened by habitat fragmentation and degradation due to anthropogenic pressures and climate change. Lowland Neotropical palm forests harbor diverse mammal communities, including threatened and endangered species. We monitored three transects in the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Costa Rica from February 2014 until April 2015 documenting large terrestrial mammal and primate detections. Following established large mammal survey methodology, each transect was walked weekly alternating between early morning and late afternoon to maximize detection. The three transects represent three levels of anthropogenic disturbance with highest disturbance at the Cerro, followed by Caño Palma Biological Station (CPBS), and lowest levels in Tortuguero National Park (TNP). Overall we found higher diversity and increased presence of endangered species in TNP and the lowest diversity and lower presence of those species in the Cerro. Overall we detected 25 species; 19 at the Cerro, 22 in TNP and 23 at CPBS. TNP had the highest diversity as calculated by Simpson index (28.3) followed by CBPS (27.9), and the Cerro had the lowest diversity of mammals (2.27). The most influential species driving the differences of communities between the three transects included the white-lipped and collared peccaries, which were both present in higher densities in transects with lower disturbance and higher levels of protection, and domestic dogs which were present in higher densities at the Cerro. This study has documented baseline densities of large mammal communities in the wildlife refuge which can be used as preliminary data for future comparisons. As development is continuing in the region, including construction of a tourist trail at the Cerro, a continued monitoring is recommended to understand the effect of development on mammal communities.