Seasonal and geographical influences on the feeding ecology of giraffes in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia: 1973–2014

Obtaining longitudinal data about the feeding ecology of long-lived iteroparous mammals is rare, but enhances our understanding of how the environment influences niche breadth and dietary diversity within a species. We analysed forty years of feeding records obtained from a population of Thornicroft’s giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) living in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Giraffes are browsers that have been reported to feed primarily upon Acacia leaves, but their feeding ecology in some locations conflict with this interpretation. Giraffes in the Luangwa Valley fed on 93 identified plant species, but only a few contributed to the bulk of the diet. Niche breadth was quite large (Shannon-Weiner Diversity Index H0 = 3.699) and about 13% more diverse during the dry, than wet, season. Key species eaten during the dry season were very consistent across decades, with Kigelia africana and Capparis tomentosa prominent at this time. The evolutionary ecology of giraffes has probably benefitted from a foraging strategy that includes a variable and high-quality diet during the hot, dry season, when feeding pressures are greatest. Giraffe feeding ecology has evolved in conjunction with their physiology, anatomy and morphology, resulting in an animal that is well adapted for survival in an arid environment.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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