Model highlights likely long-term influences of mesobrowsers versus those of elephants on woodland dynamics
O'Kane CAJ., Macdonald DW., Duffy KJ., Page BR.
The potential long-term influences of mesobrowsers versus those of savannah elephants on woodland dynamics have not been explored. This may be a critical omission especially in southern African savannahs, where efforts to preserve existing woodlands are typically directed at elephant management. We describe a simple browse-browser model, parameterized from an extensive review of the literature and our own data, including quantitative assessment of impala impact, from the study site, iMfolozi Park, South Africa. As there is a paucity of species-specific demographic data on savannah woody species, we modelled, in a novel approach, functional groups of plant species typical of Acacia woodlands. Outputs suggest that over the long term (100 years), low-to-moderate densities of impala will have a similar impact on woodland structure, in terms of density of adult trees, as low-to-moderate densities of elephant. Further, the outputs highlight the apparently strong synergistic effect impala and elephant impacts combined have on woodland dynamics, suggesting that reduction or removal of either impala or elephant will radically reduce long-term destruction of savannah woodlands. Recorded changes in adult tree numbers in iMfolozi broadly supported the model's outputs. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.