Dissimilar effects of human and elephant disturbance on woodland structure and functional bird diversity in the mopane woodlands of Zambia

Tripathi, Hemant G, Mzumara, Tiwonge I, Martin, Rowan O, Parr, Catherine L ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-763X, Phiri, Chaona and Ryan, Casey M
(2019) Dissimilar effects of human and elephant disturbance on woodland structure and functional bird diversity in the mopane woodlands of Zambia. LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY, 34 (2). pp. 357-371.

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Context: Humans and elephants are major disturbance agents in the African savanna woodlands. While both species remove trees, humans selectively harvest larger stems, which are less vulnerable to elephants. Increasing human pressures raise the question of how the altered disturbance regime will modify woodland structure, and in turn biodiversity and ecosystem function. Objectives: Here we investigate this process in the mopane woodlands of Zambia by examining relationships between woodland structure, species and functional bird diversity, and human and elephant disturbance intensity. Methods: We conducted a single-season comparison of 178 plots from 45 sites using Bayesian mixed models. Results: The effect of elephants on tree density (− 7.7 ± 1.6%; deviation from intercept) and bird species richness (− 15 ± 6%) was greater than that of humans (density: − 3.5 ± 1.5%; bird richness: − 11.6 ± 4.7%). Despite this, elephants did not significantly affect woody biomass or functional bird diversity, whereas humans had a negative effect on both (woody biomass: − 9.3 ± 2.3%; functional bird diversity: − 5 ± 2%). Elephants were associated with reductions in species and functional turnover (5.3 ± 2.5% and 6 ± 3%, respectively). Conclusions: Replacement of elephants by humans is likely to reduce woody biomass and functional bird diversity affecting the woodland structure, sustainability, and functioning. Concentrated elephant disturbance could lead to spatial homogeneity in bird species and functional compositions, potentially reducing the spatial resilience of bird communities. This is the first study to highlight how the difference between elephant and human disturbances leads to dissimilar effects on biodiversity.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Savanna woodlands, Functional traits, Alpha diversity, Beta diversity, Bayesian mixed models
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 27 Mar 2019 13:56
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 00:55
DOI: 10.1007/s10980-019-00774-2
Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00774-2
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URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3035107