Seed dispersal of Acacia erioloba by African bush elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Approximately two-thirds (64%) of all dry season samples of elephant dung analysed during a 3-year study in the Main Camp subregion of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, contained seed and/or pod materials from Acacia erioloba. Most seeds were recovered intact and actively germinating seeds were not uncommon. Very little pod mass relative to seed mass was recovered in most instances, with pod fragments recorded from only 56% of all exhaustively sampled elephant dung piles containing A. erioloba fruit materials. Nonetheless, large pod fragments and even entire intact pods were recovered occasionally from elephant dung. Seeds and pods of A. erioloba may comprise 12% or more of total wet-weight dung mass; individual dung piles were found which contained >5000 A. erioloba seeds. Birds and smaller mammals search out and consume A. erioloba seeds present within elephant dung piles. The findings of this study indicate that potential digestibility of A. erioloba seeds for bush elephants (Loxodonta africana africana) may be much higher than expected from previous studies. In controlled feeding trials with captive bush elephants (age 11–15 years old) maintained on predominantly free-range dry season diets, the estimated efficiency of digestion for A. erioloba seeds consumed in pods was 81% to 96%, with a gut-transit time of between 24.5 and 36.0 h. On the basis of throughput times determined inexperimental feeding trials, potential elephant-dispersal distances of 20–50 km are predicted for A. erioloba in the Kalahari Sands landscapes of southern central Africa.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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