Effects of Tourism on the Habitat Use by a Threatened Large Rodent at a World Heritage Site

Animals (Basel). 2021 Aug 2;11(8):2278. doi: 10.3390/ani11082278.


The mara is a large endemic rodent, which presents a marked decline in its populations, mainly because of habitat loss, hunting, and overgrazing. The Ischigualasto Provincial Park is a hyper-arid protected area at the Monte Desert of Argentina with an overall low plant cover. Our objective was to determine the influence of environmental variables and tourist activities on mara's habitat use. We used different biological levels to explain it, from plant community to floristic composition, in order to know at which level we can better detect the effects of tourist activities. We registered fresh feces and habitat variables along 80 transects in two communities, near and far away from the tourist circuit. To evaluate habitat use, we fitted models at different biological levels: plant community, plant strata, plant biological forms, and floristic composition. At the community and plant strata levels, we could not detect any tourism effects on habitat use. However, we detected effects of tourist activities on mara's habitat use at the plant strata and floristic composition levels. Maras also selected areas with a low proportion of both bare soil and pebbles cover. We found complex interactions between abiotic, biotic variables and tourism, studying mara's places near tourism activities, probably because they perceive those places as predator-safe areas.

Keywords: World Heritage sites; conservation; endemic species; habitat use; tourism conflict.