Habitat use by the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus) during an extreme dry season in an urban lake in Tabasco, Mexico

Helda Herenia Ramírez-Jiménez, León David Olivera-Gómez, Horacio de la Cueva


There are three important manatee areas in Mexico: the coasts of the State of Quintana Roo; the freshwater systems within the lower basin of the Grijalva-Usumacinta rivers, which host the largest manatee population; and the rivers of central and southern Veracruz. The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is a threatened species throughout its range. In the Grijalva-Usumacinta region, two of the current threats to manatees are the effects of extremely dry periods and geographical isolation. The objective of the study was to evaluate the behavior and habitat use of the landlocked manatee population inhabiting Laguna de las Ilusiones, Villahermosa, Tabasco, under fortuitous dry conditions, to conduct an evaluation and implement a monitoring plan for landlocked manatees. In this work, we gathered information on the differential use of the lake, and on whether this use is related to the known habitat characteristics that govern the distribution of manatees. Using VHF tags, we followed the activities of four manatees (three females and one male) to characterize and quantify four behaviors, namely feeding, resting, exploring, and traveling, between April and August 2007. We built Kernel polygons for the 25, 50, 75, and 95 % of the utilization distribution (UD). We modeled the habitat using a binary logistic regression and explored the association between the tagged manatees using Cole’s simple coefficient of association. Manatees were concentrated mainly to the northeast of the lake. The best feeding logistic model included depth, distance to the the shore, tree cover, and wind speed (Table 1), and yielded differences between periods (H = 9.85, P = 0.007, Figure 5). The logistic models fit poorly for resting, exploring, and traveling (Table 1). The resting model included distance to the the shore, tree cover, and company, and yielded differences between periods (H = 6.68, P = 0.035). Traveling included depth, cloud cover, and human activities, and yielded differences between periods (H = 7.55, P = 0.023). Exploration included depth and company, and did not differ between periods (H = 1.55, P = 0.461). We had the opportunity to assess these behaviors under dry conditions, and our findings are not necessarily applicable to the rainy season. The northern portion of the lake is an embayment connected to the central zone by a 50 m-wide shallow channel, which limited the movement of manatees. Higher food availability and stress avoidance might make manatees choose this area. Feeding was better modeled by the habitat characteristics included in the study. Feeding increased slightly in the evenings. Exploring and traveling were the behavior types observed most frequently in manatees; maybe they were moving across food patches or known areas. Manatee social encounters are reported as short-term and sporadic, but in this study manatees were observed in groups during nearly half of the observation time. When the availability of grasses and aquatic plants is low, manatees increase their consumption of other food items like mango fruits. Based on the findings reported here and under dry conditions, habitat enrichment will be helpful for this landlocked manatee population and those in other areas where seasonal contrasts is observed.

Palabras clave

comportamiento; distribución espacial; disponibilidad de recursos; modelado de hábitat; poblaciones aisladas; requisitos de manejo

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