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Remote monitoring of short-term body mass variation in savanna ungulates

Fuentes-Allende, N.; Stephens, P.A.; MacTavish, L.M.; MacTavish, D.; Willis, S.G.

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N. Fuentes-Allende

L.M. MacTavish

D. MacTavish


Large herbivores in seasonal environments often experience mass variation due to temporal changes in the availability of critical resources like water and forage, as well as due to breeding events. Yet the documentation of mass variation in mammals of highly seasonal savanna habitats, which host the highest densities of grazing ungulates globally, has rarely been explored. Here, we showcase a method to evaluate seasonal mass variation in bovids. Our method used mineral-baited scales and camera traps to enable us to track the body mass of three species through a period of wet and dry seasons in a South African savanna ecosystem. To illustrate one potential application of the method, we related body mass data to time, weather and resource availability. This showed that individuals altered their body masses markedly between seasons with, for example, female Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) gaining, on average, >21 kg over the 15-week wet-season period in one year. These changes were positively related to factors such as vegetation productivity (assessed using NDVI) and the frequency of rains. This method enables easy, non-lethal and non-invasive acquisition of mass data. The equipment is easy to deploy concurrently over large areas. Monitoring by this method has a variety of possible applications, potentially providing a useful early-warning indicator of body condition to inform management, or providing information about ecological states, such as parturition or the reproductive effort of males. Given the longer and harsher dry seasons experienced in many arid systems in recent decades, and projected in future, this method may provide a straightforward means of monitoring long-term body condition in animals as a result of environmental change.


Fuentes-Allende, N., Stephens, P., MacTavish, L., MacTavish, D., & Willis, S. (2023). Remote monitoring of short-term body mass variation in savanna ungulates. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 20, 2023
Online Publication Date May 25, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Apr 24, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 21, 2023
Journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
Publisher Wiley Open Access
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
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Copyright Statement
© 2023 The Authors. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Zoological Society of London.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

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