Landscape-scale analyses suggest both nutrient and antipredator advantages to Serengeti herbivore hotspots

Ecology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Mechanistic explanations of herbivore spatial distribution have focused largely on either resource‐related (bottom‐up) or predation‐related (top‐down) factors. We studied direct and indirect influences on the spatial distributions of Serengeti herbivore hotspots, defined as temporally stable areas inhabited by mixed herds of resident grazers. Remote sensing and variation in landscape features were first used to create a map of the spatial distribution of hotspots, which was tested for accuracy against an independent data set of herbivore observations. Subsequently, we applied structural equation modeling to data on soil fertility and plant quality and quantity across a range of sites. We found that hotspots in Serengeti occur in areas that are relatively flat and located away from rivers, sites where ungulates are less susceptible to predation. Further, hotspots tend to occur in areas where hydrology and rainfall create conditions of relatively low‐standing plant biomass, which, coupled with grazing, increases forage quality while decreasing predation risk. Low‐standing biomass and higher leaf concentrations of N, Na, and Mg were strong direct predictors of hotspot occurrence. Soil fertility had indirect effects on hotspot occurrence by promoting leaf Na and Mg. The results indicate that landscape features contribute in direct and indirect ways to influence the spatial distribution of hotspots and that the best models incorporated both resource‐ and predation‐related factors. Our study highlights the collective and simultaneous role of bottom‐up and top‐down factors in determining ungulate spatial distributions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Landscape-scale analyses suggest both nutrient and antipredator advantages to Serengeti herbivore hotspots
Series title Ecology
DOI 10.1890/09-0739.1
Volume 91
Issue 5
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) National Wetlands Research Center
Description 21 p.
First page 1519
Last page 1529