Impala as controllers of elephant-driven change within a savanna ecosystem

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Elephants and Savanna Woodland Ecosystems: A Study from Chobe National Park, Botswana


C. Skarpe, J.T. du Toit, S.R. Moe


Wiley-Blackwell and the Zoological Society of London, Chichester, UK

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To understand ecosystem structure and dynamics we need more knowledge of how common species affect ecosystem dynamics. In this context, impala are especially interesting in the Chobe ecosystem, where they are now common but were much less so just a few decades ago. The chapter uses the Chobe ecosystem as a case-study to explore the possibility that the recovery of the elephant population has created habitat that favours impala. The authors hypothesise that, following changes in plant structure and species composition along the Chobe river caused by increasing numbers of elephant, the impala population grew substantially and is currently preventing the shrubland from reverting to its previous woodland state. The conceptual framework used in the chapter is that of Pickett et al., in which elephants function as agents responsible for the change in state. Species other than impala can also play a role in seedling predation in African Savannas.

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