By Rhea Burton-Roberts, Line S. Cordes, Rob Slotow, Abi Tamim Vanak, Maria Thaker, Navashni Govender & Graeme Shannon – Scientific Reports
For large herbivores living in highly dynamic environments, maintaining range fidelity has the potential to facilitate the exploitation of predictable resources while minimising energy expenditure. We evaluate this expectation by examining how the seasonal range fidelity of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in the Kruger National Park, South Africa is affected by spatiotemporal variation in environmental conditions (vegetation quality, temperature, rainfall, and fire). Eight-years of GPS collar data were used to analyse the similarity in seasonal utilisation distributions for thirteen family groups. Elephants exhibited remarkable consistency in their seasonal range fidelity across the study with rainfall emerging as a key driver of space-use. Within years, high range fidelity from summer to autumn and from autumn to winter was driven by increased rainfall and the retention of high-quality vegetation. Across years, sequential autumn seasons demonstrated the lowest levels of range fidelity due to inter-annual variability in the wet to dry season transition, resulting in unpredictable resource availability. Understanding seasonal space use is important for determining the effects of future variability in environmental conditions on elephant populations, particularly when it comes to management interventions. Indeed, over the coming decades climate change is predicted to drive greater variability in rainfall and elevated temperatures in African savanna ecosystems. The impacts of climate change also present particular challenges for elephants living in fragmented or human-transformed habitats where the opportunity for seasonal range shifts are greatly constrained.
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