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Monitoring hunted species of cultural significance: Estimates of trends, population sizes and harvesting rates of flying-fox (Pteropus sp.) in New Caledonia

Abstract : Assessing population trends and their underlying factors is critical to propose efficient conservation actions. This assessment can be particularly challenging when dealing with highly mobile, shy and nocturnal animals such as flying-foxes. Here we investigated the dynamics of hunted populations of Pteropus ornatus and P. tonganus in the Northern Province of New Caledonia. First, an ethno-ecological survey involving 219 local experts identified 494 flying-fox roosts. Current status was assessed for 379 of them, among which 125 were no longer occupied, representing a loss of 33% over ca. 40 years. Second, species-specific counts conducted at 35 roosts, and a sample of animals killed by hunters, revealed that the endemic species, P. ornatus, was dominant (68.5%). Between 2010 and 2016, 30 roosts were counted annually during the pre-parturition period. Roosts size averaged 1,425 ± 2,151 individuals (N = 180 counts) and showed high among-year variations (roost-specific CV = 37-162%). If we recorded significant inter-annual variation, we did not detect a significant decline over the 7-yr period, although one roost went possibly extinct. Population size of the two species combined was estimated at 338,000−859,000 individuals distributed over ca. 400 roosts in the Northern Province. Flying-foxes are popular game species and constitute traditional food for all communities of New Caledonia. Annual bags derived from a food survey allowed us to estimate harvesting rates at 5-14%. Such a level of harvesting for species with a 'slow' demography, the occurrence of poaching and illegal trade, suggest the current species use might not be sustainable and further investigations are critically needed. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.
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Malik Oedin, Fabrice Brescia, Mélanie Boissenin, Eric Vidal, Jean-Jérôme Cassan, et al.. Monitoring hunted species of cultural significance: Estimates of trends, population sizes and harvesting rates of flying-fox (Pteropus sp.) in New Caledonia. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2019, ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0224466⟩. ⟨hal-02472291⟩

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