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Franz, M., Kramer-Schadt, S., Kilian, W., Wissel, C. and Groeneveld, J. 2010. Understanding the effects of rainfall on elephant - vegetation interactions around waterholes. Ecological Modelling, 221(24): 2909–2917


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Understanding the effects of rainfall on elephant - vegetation interactions around waterholes.

Summary / Notes:

The distribution of surface water affects herbivore–vegetation interactions in arid and semi-arid regions. Limited access to surface water typically results in the emergence of vegetation gradients around natural and artificial water sources. In particular, African elephants can create large-scale gradients of woody vegetation. Understanding the dynamics of these gradients is of particular importance for the conservation of other, less mobile herbivores that depend on woody vegetation in areas close to water. While rainfall is known to be a key determinant of herbivore–vegetation interactions in dry areas, we only have limited understanding on how it impacts woody vegetation gradients around waterholes. To address this problem, we developed a deterministic simulation model that describes the interplay of rainfall, elephants and woody vegetation in the vicinity of waterholes. The model is based on elephant telemetry data and the ecological conditions in Etosha National Park (ENP), Namibia. We found that decreasing amounts of rainfall led to an increased degradation of woody vegetation, which was particularly severe in areas close to water. Based on this result we conclude that low rainfall was an important driver of recently observed patterns of vegetation degradation in ENP. More generally, rainfall appears to be a key factor that determines elephant–vegetation interactions and thus dynamics of woody vegetation gradients around waterholes. Using long-term rainfall data from ENP, we also demonstrate that an increase in the number of water sources during periods of low rainfall can mitigate the destructive impact of elephants in areas close to water. However, more research is required to assess the sustainability and effectiveness of rainfall-adapted strategies of artificial water provisioning in more detail. In particular it is important to investigate potential effects on elephant population dynamics. Keywords: Herbivore–vegetation, Artificial water supply, Vegetation degradation, Precipitation changes, Loxodonta africana, Piosphere, Simulation model.

Year: 2010

Type: Journal Article

URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304380010004588


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