Disturbance, species loss and compensation: Wildfire and grazing effects on the avian community and its food supply in the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania
Article first published online: 18 AUG 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Ecological Society of Australia
Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 403–412, June 2011
How to Cite
NKWABI, A. K., SINCLAIR, A. R. E., METZGER, K. L. and MDUMA, S. A. R. (2011), Disturbance, species loss and compensation: Wildfire and grazing effects on the avian community and its food supply in the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania. Austral Ecology, 36: 403–412. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2010.02167.x
- Issue published online: 29 MAY 2011
- Article first published online: 18 AUG 2010
- Accepted for publication June 2010.
- ecosystem function;
- Serengeti birds
An important question in biodiversity studies is whether disturbances in ecosystems will cause a net loss of species or whether such losses can be compensated by replacement of other species. We use two natural disturbances, fire and grazing, to examine the response of bird and arthropod communities in grasslands of Serengeti, Tanzania. Both burning and grazing by migrant ungulates take place at the end of the rains in June–July. We documented the communities before disturbance, then 1, 4 and 20 weeks after disturbance on three replicate plots and compared them with three undisturbed plots. Birds were recorded by observation, arthropods from pitfall, tray trap and sweepnet samples. We expected that as the grass biomass was reduced by either disturbance, bird communities would change with concomitant change in arthropod food abundance. Alternatively, bird communities would change not with the absolute amount of food but with the greater accessibility of food as the grass structure changed from long to short grass. Results showed first that both bird species richness and abundance increased after both types of disturbance, but burnt sites showed a greater increase than that for grazed sites. Second, there was a change in bird species composition with disturbance. The functionally equivalent athi short-toed lark (Calandrella athensis) was replaced by the red-capped lark (Calandrella cinerea). Third, the abundance of most groups of arthropods was lower on disturbed sites than those on undisturbed sites, and the reduction of arthropod numbers was greatest on burnt sites. These results imply that bird abundance did not occur through an increase in arthropod abundance but rather through a change in the grass structure making food more accessible; and the higher predation could have caused the lower arthropod abundance. In addition, some bird species replaced others thus functionally compensating for their loss.