Asian Eden : large herbivore ecology in India

F.S. Ahrestani

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The study of large mammalian herbivore ecology has a strong allometric tradition. The
majority of studies that have helped better understand how body mass affects large herbivore
ecology in the tropics, from a biological, functional, and ecological perspective, are from
Africa. India’s large herbivore assemblage—the richest outside of Africa and with a body
mass range similar to Africa’s—is a poorly understood assemblage that has never been studied
from the perspective of body mass theory. The goal of this study was to bridge this gap. I
tested hypotheses of large herbivore biology and ecology in India based on body mass theory
across different spatial, temporal and organizational scales. Data collection and analyses
included: a 20 month field study the provided data of forage availability, the seasonal variation
in diet, habitat preference and overlap, the timing of parturition, and the life history traits of
different body mass large herbivore species in South India; a year long treatment based
exclosure field experiment that provided a better understanding of the seasonal variation in
graminoid biomass and quality in South India; a country level analysis of the distribution of
the large herbivore assemblage with respect to environmental covariates; and a modelling
approach to determine the impact of body mass on reproductive biology. Results showed that
body mass based principles offered explanations for some, but not all, of what I observed and
predicted. This study for the first time proposes that the impact of body mass might explain
why some smaller herbivore species show seasonality in annual parturition while some large
herbivores species do not. Also, as predicted and similar to Africa, large herbivore species
richness in India is highest in areas with high soil nutrients and intermediate moisture levels.
Beyond this study, important questions that still remain are “Which environmental and
ecological conditions shaped species richness in Africa to be four times higher than what is
found in India?” As India remains the last stronghold—Asia’s Eden—for most of Asia’s large
herbivores, there is a need for further studies of the biology and ecology of large herbivore
species in India.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Prins, Herbert, Promotor
  • Heitkonig, Ignas, Co-promotor
Award date30 Nov 2009
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085854876
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • animal ecology
  • gaur
  • size
  • feeding behaviour
  • seasonal variation
  • distribution
  • india
  • large herbivores

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