Why does Rhinopithecus bieti prefer the highest elevation range in winter? a test of the sunshine hypothesis
|Environmental factors that affect spatiotemporal distribution patterns of animals usually include resource availability, temperature, and the risk of predation. However, they do not explain the counterintuitive preference of high elevation range in winter by the black-and-white snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti). We asked whether variation of sunshine along with elevations is the key driving force. To test this hypothesis, we conducted field surveys to demonstrate that there was a statistically significant pattern of high elevation use during winter. We then asked whether this pattern can be explained by certain environmental factors, namely temperature, sunshine duration and solar radiation. Finally, we concluded with a possible ecological mechanism for this pattern. In this study, we employed GIS technology to quantify solar radiation and sunshine duration across the monkey's range. Our results showed that: 1) R. bieti used the high altitude range between 4100-4400 m in winter although the yearly home range spanned from 3500-4500 m; 2) both solar radiation and sunshine duration increased with elevation while temperature decreased with elevation; 3) within the winter range, the use of range was significantly correlated with solar radiation and sunshine duration; 4) monkeys moved to the areas with high solar radiation and duration following a snowfall, where the snow melts faster and food is exposed earlier. We concluded that sunshine was the main factor that influences selection of high elevation habitat for R. bieti in winter. Since some other endotherms in the area exhibit similar winter distributional patterns, we developed a sunshine hypothesis to explain this phenomenon. In addition, our work also represented a new method of integrating GIS models into traditional field ecology research to study spatiotemporal distribution pattern of wildlife. We suggest that further theoretical and empirical studies are necessary for better understanding of sunshine influence on wildlife range use. © 2011 Quan et al.
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|Why does Rhinopithecus bieti prefer the highest elevation range in winter? a test of the sunshine hypothesis
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