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Elephant spatial use in wet and dry savannas of southern Africa

Authors

  • K. D. Young,

    1. Conservation Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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  • S. M. Ferreira,

    1. Conservation Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. SANParks, Scientific Services, Skukuza, South Africa
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  • R. J. Van Aarde

    1. Conservation Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener

Correspondence
R. J. van Aarde, Conservation Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa. Tel: +27 12 420 2753; Fax: +27 12 420 4523
Email: rjvaarde@zoology.up.ac.za

Abstract

The influence of elephants on woody vegetation cover varies from place to place. In part this may be due to the way elephants utilize space across landscapes and within their home ranges in response to the availability and distribution of food. We used location data from 18 cows at six study sites across an east to west rainfall gradient in southern Africa to test whether wet- and dry-season home-range sizes, evenness of space use within seasonal home ranges and range overlap between seasons and between years, differed between wet and dry savannas. We then tested whether the quantity, distribution and seasonal stability in vegetation productivity, a coarse measure of food for elephants, explained differences. Elephants in wet savannas had smaller wet- and dry-season home ranges and also returned to a higher proportion of previously visited grid cells between seasons and between years than elephants living in dry savannas. Wet-season home-range sizes were explained by seasonal vegetation productivity while dry-season home-range sizes were explained by heterogeneity in the distribution of vegetation productivity. The influence of the latter on dry-season home ranges differed among structural vegetation classes. Range overlap between seasons and between years was related to inter-seasonal and inter-annual stability in vegetation productivity, respectively. Evenness of elephant spatial use within home ranges did not differ between savanna types, but it was explained by seasonal vegetation productivity and heterogeneity in the distribution of vegetation productivity during the wet season. Differences in elephant spatial use patterns between wet and dry savannas according to vegetation structure and season may need to be included in the development of site-specific objectives and management approaches for African elephants.

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