Effects of resource limitation on habitat usage by the browser guild in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa
O'Kane CAJ., Duffy KJ., Page BR., MacDonald DW.
Resource depletion and associated increases in interspecific competition are likely to influence differential habitat usage amongst a guild. We tested some prominent theoretical concepts using observed differences in seasonal habitat use amongst the savanna browser guild (elephant, giraffe, impala, kudu and nyala) in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa. Herbivore locations (n = 3108) were recorded over 2 y using repeated road transects and, for elephant, GPS collars (187 254 downloads). Densities were calculated using a novel GIS approach designed to be a cost-effective method for annual censuses, but also able to cope with abrupt changes in visibility. Selectivity for (Manly's α) vegetation types, and overlap (Schoener's index) in vegetation type usage were calculated. Resource depletion in the dry season resulted in all members of the guild increasing selectivity for vegetation types (sum of absolute values away from the neutral value for Manly's alpha for the guild: dry seasons 3.97, 5.16; corresponding wet seasons 3.12, 3.68), but decreasing interspecific overlap (80% of Schoener's indices lower in dry season versus wet season). These effects were more marked over the second, more severe, dry season. We found support for the niche overlap hypothesis and the niche compression hypothesis. The Jarman-Bell principle was generally supported, although unexpectedly during the severe dry season elephant showed the most selectivity for vegetation type. The greater the resource depletion, the more relevant interspecific differences in habitat usage become in relation to the differential impacts of guild members. © 2012 Cambridge University Press.