Effect of small-scale heterogeneity of prey and hunter distributions on the sustainability of bushmeat hunting

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Bushmeat is the main source of protein and the most important source of income for rural people in the Congo Basin, but intensive hunting of bushmeat species is also a major concern for conservationists. Although spatial heterogeneity in hunting effort and in prey populations at the landscape level plays a key role in the sustainability of hunted populations, the role of small-scale heterogeneity within a village hunting territory in the sustainability of hunting has remained understudied. We built a spatially explicit multiagent model to capture the dynamics of a system in which hunters and preys interact within a village hunting territory. We examined the case of hunting of bay duikers (Cephalophus dorsalis) in the village of Ntsi´et´e, northeastern Gabon. The impact of hunting on prey populations depended on the spatial heterogeneity of hunting and prey distribution at small scales within a hunting area. Within a village territory, the existence of areas hunted throughout the year, areas hunted only during certain seasons, and unhunted areas contributed to the sustainability of the system. Prey abundance and offtake per hunter were particularly sensitive to the frequency and length of hunting sessions and to the number of hunters sharing an area. Some biological parameters of the prey species, such as dispersal rate and territory size, determined their spatial distribution in a hunting area, which in turn influenced the sustainability of hunting. Detailed knowledge of species ecology and behavior, and of hunting practices are crucial to understanding the distribution of potential sinks and sources in space and time. Given the recognized failure of simple biological models to assess maximum sustainable yields, multiagent models provide an innovative path toward new approaches for the assessment of hunting sustainability, provided further research is conducted to increase knowledge of prey species' and hunter behavior.

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