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Centre for African Conservation Ecology

In: Landman M, Schoeman DS, Hall-Martin AJ & Kerley GIH. 2012. Understanding long-term variations in an elephant piosphere effect to manage impacts. PLoS One 7: e45334.

Online paper

 

For further information, please contact

Dr. Marietjie Landman

Centre for African Conservation Ecology

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Marietjie.landman@nmmu.ac.za

Tel: 041 504 2493

 

Background

In the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa, concern was raised regarding the damage that elephant cause to the vegetation and biodiversity. Because elephant drink water every day, and even several times a day, this damage is particularly severe in the areas around waterholes. Thus, understanding how these impacts may change in relation to water in the long-term is critical to the management of elephant and their habitat. We analysed vegetation structure and function in relation to water over a 31 year period in Addo.

What we found

       Within three decades, elephants converted dense succulent thicket habitats to open-grassland around waterholes.

       They did this by opening up the clumps of thicket shrubs. The plants that are unable to cope with the damage caused by elephant are lost in this process.

       This has important implications for the functioning of these thickets, as soils and litter material that usually accumulate beneath clumps of shrubs are lost.

Management advice

       Elephant have the ability to have large and wide ranging impacts in succulent thicket, and other habitats (as shown in the literature) around water points, particularly when there are high elephant density.

       Thus, water provisioning (e.g. through boreholes) should be minimized where possible. 

       Because the impacts near water are complex, a more in-depth understanding of the influences of elephant on the structure and functioning of ecosystems may be required before water availability is used to manage impacts.

       Detecting and managing these impacts requires careful, long-term monitoring.