Determinants of seasonal changes in availability of food patches for elephants (Loxodonta africana) in a semi-arid African savanna
Loss of biodiversity caused by impact of elephants (Loxodonta africana) on African woodlands may require a management response, but any action should be based on an understanding of why elephants choose to utilise trees destructively. Comprehension of elephant feeding behaviour requires consideration of the relative value of the plant groups they may potentially consume. Profitability of available food is partly determined by the time to locate a food patch and, therefore, as a foundation for understanding the influence of food availability on diet selection, key controls on the density of grass, forb, and browse patches were investigated across space and time in a semi-arid African savanna. Density of food patches changed seasonally because plant life-forms required different volumes of soil water to produce green forage; and woody plants and forbs responded to long-term changes in soil moisture, while grasses responded to short-term moisture pulses. Soil texture, structure of woody vegetation and fire added further complexity by altering the soil water thresholds required for production of green forage. Interpolating between regularly-timed, ground-based measurements of food density by using modelled soil water as the predictor in regression equations may be a feasible method of quantifying food available to elephants in complex savanna environments.
Biodiversity, Conservation Biology, Ecology, Plant Science, Grass, Trees, Shrubs, Bark, Soil, Rainfall, Forbs, Fire
Clegg, B.W. and O'Connor, T.G. 2017. Determinants of seasonal changes in availability of food patches for elephants (Loxodonta africana) in a semi-arid African savanna. PEERJ 5, Article number e3453.