Droughts Decouple African Savanna Grazers from Their Preferred Forage with Consequences for Grassland Productivity

Donaldson, JE, Parr, CL ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-763X, Mangena, EH and Archibald, S
(2019) Droughts Decouple African Savanna Grazers from Their Preferred Forage with Consequences for Grassland Productivity. Ecosystems, 23 (3). pp. 689-701.

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© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Grazing lawn and flammable-tussock grass communities are contrasting resource pools for mammalian grazers in terms of forage quantity and quality. Drought events fundamentally alter forage availability within these communities and therefore should alter herbivore use with repercussions for the recovery and functioning of ecosystems after drought. During and after an intense El Niño drought (2014–2017) in Kruger National Park, South Africa, we addressed two questions: (1) how does herbivore use of different grass types change during a drought and (2) how do these changes affect grass productivity post-drought? We monitored grazer use of three different grass communities (lawn, tussock and burned-tussock) at a landscape scale and measured primary productivity monthly during and post-drought. For the first drought year, grazer numbers were highest on grazing lawn communities. This pattern continued into the second dry growing season, until herbivores finally left the study area. Both lawns and tussock grasslands recovered rapidly after the first good rainfall (productivity > 150 g m−2 per month). However, grazers did not return to feed on the same patches they had frequented pre-drought resulting in grazing lawn grasses self-shading and senescing. Longer droughts have the potential to decouple grazers and grazing lawns with negative impacts on lawn productivity and persistence that could drive the loss of lawns in savanna landscapes and impact mesoherbivore populations. It is clear from our results that grazer effects need to be incorporated into drought frameworks to understand the consequences of droughts for grassland function.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: African savannas, drought, fire ecology, grazer ecology, grazing, grazing lawns, productivity
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2019 10:23
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 00:20
DOI: 10.1007/s10021-019-00438-x
Related URLs:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3060759