Warfare-induced mammal population declines in Southwestern Africa are mediated by species life history, habitat type and hunter preferences

Franciany Braga-Pereira, Carlos A Peres, João Vitor Campos-Silva, Carmen Van-Dúnem Santos, Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega Alves

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Civil wars often coincide with global biodiversity hotspots and have plagued the everyday reality of many countries throughout human history. However, how do civil wars affect wildlife populations? Are these impacts the same in savannah and forest environments? How persistent are the post-war consequences on wildlife populations within and outside conflict zones? Long-term monitoring programs in war zones, which could answer these questions, are virtually nonexistent, not least due to the risks researchers are exposed to. In this context, only a few methodologies can provide data on wild populations during war conflicts. We used local ecological knowledge to assess the main consequences of a prolonged civil war (1975-2002) in Southwestern Africa on forest and savannah mammals. The post-war abundance in 20 of 26 (77%) mammal species considered in this study was lower in open savannah compared to the closed-canopy forest environments, with some species experiencing a decline of up to 80% of their pre-war baseline abundance. Large-bodied mammals were preferred targets and had been overhunted, but as their populations became increasingly depleted, the size structure of prey species gradually shifted towards smaller-bodied species. Finally, we present a general flow diagram of how civil wars in low-governance countries can have both positive and negative impacts on native wildlife populations at different scales of space and time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15428
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2020

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