Rainfall variability and its impact on large mammal populations in a complex of semi-arid African savanna protected areas

Edson Gandiwa*, I.M.A. Heitkönig, Paul H.C. Eilers, Herbert H.T. Prins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated the rainfall patterns and associated fluctuations of wild large herbivore species in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), southern Africa. The study objectives were to: (i) establish the synchrony in rainfall and drought occurrence patterns in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe, and four adjacent areas, and (ii) determine the responses of different large herbivore species' populations to droughts. We used annual rainfall data collected from the five sites within the GLTFCA and large herbivore population data collected from multispecies aerial surveys in Gonarezhou and Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our results showed that between 1970 and 2009, Gonarezhou recorded three wet years (1977, 1978 and 2000) and six drought years (1973, 1983, 1989, 1992, 1994 and 2005). However, there were some variations in the drought occurrences between Gonarezhou and the four adjacent areas indicating a weak synchrony in rainfall patterns. Furthermore, seven large herbivore species showed dips in their populations associated with the 1992 severe drought, with most of the species' populations recovering thereafter. Our study suggests that rainfall does have a strong influence on large herbivore population dynamics especially in really dry years in African savanna ecosystems. Our findings underscore the need for further detailed studies on bottom-up processes influencing large herbivore population trends in savanna ecosystems with high rainfall variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-180
JournalTropical Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Annual rainfall
  • Bottom-up process
  • Conservation
  • Drought
  • Equilibrium systems
  • Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area
  • Non-equilibrium systems

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