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University of Cape Town (2020)

Elephant impacts on woody vegetation around artificial waterholes in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe

Wilson, Luke

Titre : Elephant impacts on woody vegetation around artificial waterholes in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe

Auteur : Wilson, Luke

Université de soutenance : University of Cape Town.

Grade : Masters of Philosophy in Conservation Biology 2020

Résumé partiel
Elephant are renowned for their ability to substantially alter vegetation. However, as they need to drink regularly, surface water exerts a strong influence over the distribution and magnitude of elephant impacts on vegetation. This study was conducted in Zambezi National Park, a 560 km2 unfenced protected area in northwest Zimbabwe. It aimed to investigate the impacts of elephant on woody vegetation, particularly in relation to artificial waterholes. Sampling plots were located at different distances from four pumped waterholes in teak (Baikiaea) and Terminalia woodlands, the two main woody vegetation types recognised in the study area. Plots were set at 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 4000 m from waterholes in the teak woodland. Due to the close proximity of waterholes, a lower maximum distance of 2500 or 3000 m from waterholes had to be used in the Terminalia woodland, but sampling intervals from 200-2000 m were otherwise the same. Assessment of elephant browsing and a series of measurements were performed on trees and shrubs within these plots, with plants assigned to one of three height classes (0.2 - < 1 m ; 1 - <3 m and ≥3 m). Elephant dung counts were also conducted in these plots, to provide a measure of elephant occupancy. A clear decline in elephant browsing with distance from waterholes was evident in both the teak and Terminalia woodlands. However, elephant browsing was consistently higher in the latter woodland type. Averaged across all plant height classes, elephant had removed 30-45% of plant canopies in most Terminalia woodland plots. More moderate canopy removal of 10- 30% was found in most teak woodland plots. Plants ≥3 m were particularly highly browsed in the Terminalia woodland, with over 50% of their canopy volume removed in most plots. Elephant browsing impacts were also considered at the species level, which revealed clear differences in browsing levels among species. Some uncommon and highly browsed species were flagged as being potentially vulnerable to disappearance from the area, even in the teak woodland where overall elephant browsing was lower.

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