Long-term impacts of poaching on relatedness, stress physiology, and reproductive output of adult female african elephants.
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Widespread poaching prior to the 1989 ivory ban greatly altered the demographic structure of matrilineal African elephant (Loxodonta africana) family groups in many populations by decreasing the number of old, adult females. We assessed the long-term impacts of poaching by investigating genetic, physiological, and reproductive correlates of a disturbed social structure resulting from heavy poaching of an African elephant population in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania, prior to 1989. We examined fecal glucocorticoid levels and reproductive output among 218 adult female elephants from 109 groups differing in size, age structure, and average genetic relatedness over 25 months from 2003 to 2005. The distribution in group size has changed little since 1989, but the number of families with tusked old matriarchs has increased by 14.2%. Females from groups that lacked an old matriarch, first-order adult relatives, and strong social bonds had significantly higher fecal glucocorticoid values than those from groups with these features (all females R(2)= 0.31; females in multiadult groups R(2)= 0.46). Females that frequented isolated areas with historically high poaching risk had higher fecal glucocorticoid values than those in low poaching risk areas. Females with weak bonds and low group relatedness had significantly lower reproductive output (R(2)[U]=0.21). Females from disrupted groups, defined as having observed average group relatedness 1 SD below the expected mean for a simulated unpoached family, had significantly lower reproductive output than females from intact groups, despite many being in their reproductive prime. These results suggest that long-term negative impacts from poaching of old, related matriarchs have persisted among adult female elephants 1.5 decades after the 1989 ivory ban was implemented