Impacts of savanna trees on forage quality for a large African herbivore

F. Ludwig, H. de Kroon, H.H.T. Prins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recently, cover of large trees in African savannas has rapidly declined due to elephant pressure, frequent fires and charcoal production. The reduction in large trees could have consequences for large herbivores through a change in forage quality. In Tarangire National Park, in Northern Tanzania, we studied the impact of large savanna trees on forage quality for wildebeest by collecting samples of dominant grass species in open grassland and under and around large Acacia tortilis trees. Grasses growing under trees had a much higher forage quality than grasses from the open field indicated by a more favourable leaf/stem ratio and higher protein and lower fibre concentrations. Analysing the grass leaf data with a linear programming model indicated that large savanna trees could be essential for the survival of wildebeest, the dominant herbivore in Tarangire. Due to the high fibre content and low nutrient and protein concentrations of grasses from the open field, maximum fibre intake is reached before nutrient requirements are satisfied. All requirements can only be satisfied by combining forage from open grassland with either forage from under or around tree canopies. Forage quality was also higher around dead trees than in the open field. So forage quality does not reduce immediately after trees die which explains why negative effects of reduced tree numbers probably go initially unnoticed. In conclusion our results suggest that continued destruction of large trees could affect future numbers of large herbivores in African savannas and better protection of large trees is probably necessary to sustain high animal densities in these ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-496
JournalOecologia
Volume155
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Keywords

  • hydraulic lift
  • national-park
  • grass interactions
  • tropical savannas
  • panicum-maximum
  • light-intensity
  • vegetation
  • shade
  • woodlands
  • tanzania

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