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Understorey structure and refuges from predators influence habitat use by a small ungulate, the Indian chevrotain (Moschiola indica) in Western Ghats, India

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The availability of refuges from predators and high quality food are thought to determine habitat use in small ungulates. We tested this hypothesis on habitat use by the Indian chevrotain in a tropical rainforest in the Western Ghats, using pellet-groups to infer habitat use. Between December 2009 and April 2010, we sampled 204 grids of 50 m × 50 m with four spatial replicates in each, using occupancy framework. We quantified refuges such as fallen logs and boulders, understorey complexity, and noted the presence of fruiting trees in the grid. Detection probability, p, of pellet-groups was estimated at 0.61. The naive estimate of occupancy was 0.52, which increased to 0.73 when p was accounted for. Out of eight candidate models compared using AICC, the one with the number of refuges and understorey complexity was the best model. Both covariates had non-zero positive slopes. Fruiting trees occurred very infrequently and did not influence habitat use, perhaps because the chevrotain fed more on buds, shoots and young leaves during the dry period covered by this study. The strong influence of understorey complexity on habitat use was perhaps also due to the abundance of these food items. These results highlight the need to control human use that adversely impacts the availability of refuges and understorey complexity such as removal of fallen logs and rattans. This study also demonstrates the application of the occupancy approach in the study of small and elusive ungulates.

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This study was funded by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. We thank the Karnataka Forest Department for research permits and logistical support. Discussions with Ullas Karanth, Samba Kumar, Arjun Gopalaswamy and Devcharan Jathanna helped conceptualise the study. We are grateful to Srinivasa for his invaluable help in the field. Meghna Krishnadas supported all stages of the study. Two anonymous reviewers provided very useful comments.

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Correspondence to Sachin Sridhara.

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Sridhara, S., Edgaonkar, A. & Kumar, A. Understorey structure and refuges from predators influence habitat use by a small ungulate, the Indian chevrotain (Moschiola indica) in Western Ghats, India. Ecol Res 28, 427–433 (2013).

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  • Occupancy models
  • Rainforest
  • Feeding ecology
  • Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary