• Open Access

How many elephants can you fit into a conservation area


  • Editor
    Chris Thomas

Simon Scheiter, Biodiversität und Klimaforschungszentrum (LOEWE BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, D-60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany Tel: +49 (0)69 798-40167; fax: +49 (0)69 798-40169. E-mail: scheiter@em.uni-frankfurt.de


The African elephant is the largest extant terrestrial mammal and a reminder of the Pleistocene megafauna. Their survival is, however, dependent on conservation areas. In some conservation areas, rapidly growing elephant populations have led conservation biologists to ask, how many elephants can these areas support? The debate is polarized by arguments for large populations for economic, social, or ethical reasons and arguments for smaller populations that avoid biodiversity loss. We use a novel dynamic modeling approach to assess how climate change-induced vegetation change may influence the capacity of a conservation area to support large herbivores. The model projects that elephant densities and fire have substantial impacts on vegetation under current climatic conditions. Under future conditions, the capacity to support elephants increases due to CO2-induced increases in woody plant productivity. We conclude that sustainable management in conservation areas needs to be conditioned on the effects of climate change on vegetation.