Journal article

The role of browsers in maintaining the openness of savanna grazing lawns

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Publication Details

Author list: Voysey Michael D, Archibald Sally, Bond William J, Donaldson Jason E, Carla Staver A, Greve Michelle

Publisher: Wiley

Publication year: 2021

Journal: Journal of Ecology


Volume number: 109

Start page: 913

End page: 926

Total number of pages: 14

ISSN: 0022-0477

eISSN: 1365-2745


. In savannas, ruminant herbivores can have divergent impacts on tree recruitment and subsequent woody cover. Whereas heavy grazing by cattle results in woody thickening, intensive grazing by wildlife instead tends to be associated with lower woody cover. 2. To disentangle why woody cover is low in areas heavily grazed by wildlife, we investigated (a) whether grazing lawns attract indigenous mammalian browsers, and if a preference for short-grass habitat decreases with browser body mass as predator susceptibility decreases; and (b) whether browser attraction to grazing lawns translates into the suppression of woody plants, including seedlings and saplings, thus maintaining the openness of heavily grazed short-grass areas. 3. In Kruger National Park, South Africa, we contrasted browser abundance (using dung counts) on grazing lawns and on low-herbivory sites characterised by tall grass. Additionally, a herbivore exclosure experiment was set up to investigate the combined impact of browser removal and grass height habitat type on seedling survival and sapling growth of a dominant woody plant species. Finally, in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), we examined the long-term (10 years) impact of browser removal on the growth rates of a range of woody species, monitored across ten sites along a gradient of herbivory ranging from grazing lawn to tall grass. 4. Steenbok and impala selected short- over tall grass as preferred browsing sites, while elephant preferred tall grass. Browser abundance on short grass decreased with browser body mass, indicating that predator avoidance might be a key factor driving mesoherbivores to utilise grazing lawns. 5. Seedling survival was lowest on grazing lawns when browsers were present, with mortality occurring in two out of every three seedlings. Similarly, sapling growth was lowest on grazing lawns, although browser removal had no significant effect. Evidence for increased browser impact on grazing lawns was clearest from our long-term herbivore exclosure experiment in HiP, which demonstrated that browsers strongly modify the growth rates of woody plants in short-grass habitats. 6. Synthesis. These results provide support for the hypothesis that browsers, particularly browsing mesoherbivores and mixed feeders, are attracted to short-grass


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Last updated on 2021-16-02 at 23:36