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Modelling the Habitat Selection of the Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis) in and around the Great Indian Bustard

Wildlife Sanctuary, Nannaj, Maharashtra

A Thesis Submitted to

The Manipal Academy of Higher Education (Deemed University)

in partial fulfilment for the degree of

Master of Science

Wildlife Biology & Conservation

By Aditya Bhaskaran

Centre for Wildlife Studies Post-Graduate Programme in Wildlife Biology & Conservation

Centre for Wildlife Studies and

National Centre for Biological Sciences UAS-GKVK Campus, Bellary Road

Bangalore 560 065

Contents

Acknowledgement:................................................................................................................i

Executive Summary:............................................................................................................ii

Introduction: ........................................................................................................................1

Previous Studies:................................................................................................................3

Present Study: ....................................................................................................................4

Study Area:...........................................................................................................................5

Intensive Study Area:.........................................................................................................6

Methods: ...............................................................................................................................7

Study Design:.....................................................................................................................7

Data Collection: .................................................................................................................9

Spatial Modeling:.............................................................................................................11

Results:................................................................................................................................14

Parameter Estimation Model (PEM):...............................................................................15

Habitat Selection Model (HSM): .....................................................................................16

Discussion: ..........................................................................................................................17

Conclusion: .........................................................................................................................21

References: .........................................................................................................................22

Acknowledgement

Firstly, I would like to thank my guides Dr. Shomita Mukherjee, Dr. Mohammed Irfan-Ullah

and Mr. Abi Tamim Vanak for all their support. Mr. Aditya Singh, my unofficial guide

coded and the entire modeling on Python and helped as much as my official guides. Mr.

Abi Tamim also lent me the latest satellite imagery which was vital to the analysis. They

were extremely supportive of this work and gave it their best in terms of helping formulate,

execute and write up this work. I do not think a mere written acknowledgement like this

could do justice to thanking any of my guides.

The Maharashtra State Forest Department was very helpful. I would like to personally thank

the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Shri B. Majumdar, the Conservator of

Forests (Wildlife) Shri D. R. Parihar for being extremely supportive of this study and

extending as much help as possible.

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment has been extremely helpful by

allowing me to use their GIS lab for analyzing and writing this work without which this

would not have been possible.

I would also like to thank the Centre for Wildlife Studies and the faculty of the Post Graduate

Programme for Wildlife and Conservation Biology for their support and funding.

Mr. Abhijeet Kulkarni and Bharath Chedda were very helpful with logistics and getting work

done in Chaotic Sholapur. I would like to thank my field assistants Salim and Sarang who

aided in data collection on field. A warm thanks to my classmates Samira and Nibedita for all

the good times.

I would like to thank Terenia for always being there.

i

Executive Summary

The Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis) is one of the three species of foxes found in India. It is

widely distributed in peninsular India, prefers semiarid to flat and undulating terrain. The

habitat of the Indian fox is rapidly degrading due to livestock grazing, agriculture and other

developmental activities. This threatens a unique assemblage of flora and fauna such as the

endangered Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), Blackbuck (Antelope cervicapra) and Indian

wolf (Canis lupus). There is a paucity of information on the ecology and status of this

species. The Indian fox is protected under Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act,

1972. The species is Data Deficient and is rated Least Concern by the IUCN.

This study was conducted in the Great Indian Bustard Wildlife Sanctuary, Nannaj, Sholapur,

Maharashtra between January 2006 to May 2006. The study aimed at mapping the modeled

distribution of the Indian fox and looking at the factors that influence its habitat selection. A

Markov Chain Monte Carlo Simulation (MCMC) based Generalized Linear Model (GLM)

was used within a Bayesian framework. This was implemented using an Auto-logistic term to

account for Spatial Autocorrelation. Data was collected on parameters like disturbance,

resource base and habitat characteristics that was quantified using non-invasive techniques.

The Parameter Estimation Model (PEM) and Habitat Selection Model (HSM) indicate high

probability of occurrence of the Indian fox in grasslands and grassland-fallow complexes.

The Indian fox may be able to tolerate a certain degree of habitat disturbance, but are

sensitive to high disturbance. The output of the Habitat Selection Model has been used to

prepare a map of the derived probabilities of habitat selection of the Indian fox. Results from

such models could enable improved predictions of species distributions, emerging risks and

aid in implementation of efficient conservation strategies. This work has been written as a

manuscript and formatted keeping in mind the guidelines of the Journal of Zoology.

ii

Introduction

The Indian fox is one of three species of foxes that occur in India (Pocock 1936). It is a small

fox with body weight ranging between 2.7 and 3.2 kg (Gompper and Vanak 2006). It has

grayish coat and typical features such as an elongated muzzle, long pointed ears, bushy tail

with a black tip, pale ventral pelage with brownish to rufous legs that characterizes it of the

genus Vulpes (Menon 2003, Prater 1980, Vanak and Gompper 2006, Johnsingh and Jhala

2004).

The Indian fox is crepuscular and nocturnal in habit, although cool day time temperatures

could induce some activity (Johnsingh and Jhala 2004, Gompper and Vanak 2006). Analyses

of scat of the Indian fox from Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary and Kutch have suggested that

its diet consists of rodents, grasshoppers, termites, beetles, scorpions, centipedes, monitor

lizard, ground nesting birds, fruit and seed of Zizyphus mauritiana, Citrullus vulgaris,

Azadirachta indica, Mangifera indica, Syzigium cumini, Melia azedarachta, and Ficus

bengalensis (Manakadan and Rahmani 2000, Johnsingh and Jhala 2004, Vanak in review,

Vanak 2003, Prater 1980, Gompper and Vanak 2006). Of these invertebrates, grasshoppers

and termites tended to form a major part of their diet (74%) followed by rodent remains

(61%) (Vanak in review). Diet analysis from Kutch showed a similar trend of scat containing

arthropods (77%, 84%), mammals (46%, 53%), fruits (54%, 23%), reptiles (44%, 26%) and

birds (6%, 2%) in grassland and scrub habitats (Home 2005).

The Indian fox is one of the most common small carnivores in grasslands (Vanak 2005). It is

known to have a wide distribution in India covering an extensive range from the foothills of

the Himalayas and some of the Terai landscape to the southern tip of the Indian peninsula;

and from Sindh province of Pakistan to southeastern Bangladesh across the Indian

subcontinent (Prater 1980; Johnsingh 1978, Johnsingh and Jhala 2004, Gompper and Vanak

1

2006). The species is abundant in bio-geographic zones 3 (Desert), 4 (Semi-arid) and 6

(Deccan peninsula) of India which are best described as low rainfall areas with scrub, thorn

or dry deciduous forests and short grasslands (Rodgers, Panwar and Mathur 2002). It has also

been speculated that the range of the Indian fox is currently extending into the Sunderbans

with the decline of mangrove forests in Bangladesh. It is perceived to be widely distributed in

semi-arid grasslands but rarely abundant (Vanak 2003, 2005, Gompper and Vanak 2006)