UBC Theses and Dissertations
Resource use by reintroduced large African herbivores in an altered landscape Conneely, Bridget Pauline
Suitable habitat for large terrestrial animals is declining worldwide and protected areas provide viable habitat for these species. However, human disturbances can make potential habitat less suitable for species of concern, and can cause extirpation or even extinction. Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique experienced the loss of nearly all of its large grazing herbivores causing a shift from short, nutritious grasses to low-quality grass. The objectives of this study are twofold (1) to determine the drivers of resource selection by reintroduced blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and African buffalo (Synercus caffer) to an altered system with low herbivore abundances and minimal risk of predation; (2) to identify the mechanisms by which these two species select resources on the patch scale by the creation of artificial grazing lawns. I performed AIC model selection on a suite of predictor variables to identify important factors driving resource selection on multiple spatial scales across three seasons. Next, I experimentally tested the effects of a mowing treatment on patch use by the two species to elucidate the interactions between grass clipping, soil and grass nutrients, and herbivore use. The findings of this study identify three major trends in resource selection by both species. First, wildebeest selected short, protein-rich grass patches during all seasons when available while buffalo utilized these patches predominantly during the early dry season when other resources are scarce. Second, open (low-tree cover) areas and proximity to water were secondary factors that determined wildebeest resource selection. Third, morphological adaptations allowed buffalo to feed on tall or short grasses depending on resource requirements; grass height was not a significant factor in resource selection. In the wet season, when resources were abundant, buffalo choice was driven by the composition of grass species. During the late dry season, buffalo chose unmowed salt plain vegetation in previously burned areas which had high percent grass greenness. These trends indicate that the establishment of short, productive grazing lawns would be highly beneficial for wildebeest during all seasons while a diversity of grass patch heights, grass species, vegetation types, and burning regimes would benefit buffalo.
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