Vegetation factors influencing density and distribution of wild large herbivores in a southern African savannah

Understanding factors influencing large herbivore densities and distribution in terrestrial ecosystems is a fundamental goal of ecology. This study examined environmental factors influencing the density and distribution of wild large herbivores in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe. Vegetation and surface water were predicted to have a stronger influence than anthropogenic-related disturbances (livestock grazing, fires, settlements and poaching) on the density and distribution of wild large herbivores. Aerial survey data for seven common wild large herbivores conducted in 2007 and 2009 and environmental data were collected. Only grass cover explained a significant proportion of the variation in large herbivore densities and distribution. Moreover, only two species densities significantly differed across the Gonarezhou, namely impala and zebra. In contrast, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, kudu and nyala densities did not differ significantly across the Gonarezhou. Overall, the findings only partly support the study prediction. The study results suggest the need to further investigate the roles of environmental factors at smaller scales in order to tease out their relative strengths in influencing density and distribution of large herbivores.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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