Diet and Feeding Effects of Introduced Giraffe in the Eastern Cape.

This study presents the results of a study on introduced giraffe diet and feeding effects within the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Five sites were selected over a moisture gradient from the mesic east to the arid west of the Eastern Cape to describe giraffe diet and provide baseline data for feeding effect experiments. At each site faecal samples were collected seasonally and diet composition determined by microhistological analysis. Plant species availability was measured using the point intersect method in order to compare plant availability to plant consumption to determine diet preferences. Giraffe diet across the sites showed a unimodal response to rainfall by utilising fewer species in drier areas where plant availability is low and increasing the number of species consumed as the rainfall increases. In higher rainfall areas, giraffe reduced the number of plant species fed upon because of the high availability of important species that reduces the need for a varied diet. Across all sites, plant availability was dominated by woody plant species (more than 90% at each site). A total of 57 plants species were recorded as being eaten across the five sites. Several PDI (Principle Diet Items) plant species (Acacia karroo, Schotia afra, Pappea capensis and Euclea undulata) were eaten across sites. Over all the sites, significantly preferred species were Asparagus striatus, Schotia latifolia, Asparagus suaveolens, Commelina benghalensis, Viscum rotundifolium, and Acacia cyclops. Acacia karroo, Schotia afra, Pappea capensis, Rhus crenata, A. tetracantha, and Grewia robusta were utilised in proportion to their availability. Euclea undulata, Rhus longispina and Putterlickia pyracantha were avoided. Feeding effects were tested by erecting exclosures around trees, covering one half of each tree. Ten trees were selected for these manipulative experiments which ran from September 2003 to February 2005. The number of branches, number of leaves, branch orders, branch diameter, branch length, leaf length and leaf width were measured for ten samples per side (enclosed vs. exposed) and analysed using a Wilcoxon matched pairs test and tested for effect size using Cohen’s d. Although no significant differences were detected between the sides measured, the effect size indicated differences in all measurements between sides ranging from low to moderate. Leaf length was greater on the outside of exclosures and showed a moderate difference between the sides in terms of the d-value with the p-value (0.059) tending towards significance. Although leaf width was higher on the inside of exclosures, it only showed a moderate difference for d with no statistical significance. Leaf area was higher on the inside of exclosures and tended to significance (p = 0.059) and similarly the d value indicated moderate differences between the sides in terms of effect size. Similarly branch length was higher on the inside of exclosures although not significantly, the p-value (0.07) approached significance. The effect size for branch length also showed a moderate difference between the sides. The number of branches and the number of leaves showed no statistical differences between the sides although the p-value (0.059) for the number of branches, as well as number of leaves (p = 0.07) approached significance. For both these variables, effect size showed a moderate difference. Giraffe showed diversity in their diet selection across sites but mainly fed upon available species. Some preferred species were however less available and this preference could possibly result in increased pressure on the selected plant species Exclosure experiments showed no significant differences in leaf and shoot characteristics although all measurements showed differences in terms of effect size meriting further investigation. It is concluded that giraffe impact on sites may be reduced if populations are properly managed however, high densities of giraffe could lead to similar vegetation impacts as observed in other areas where giraffe have been introduced and potentially change vegetation structure and plant community composition.

Publish DateMarch 28, 2018
Last UpdatedJanuary 26, 2021
Size4.54 MB