Herbaceous forage and selection patterns by ungulates across varying herbivore assemblages in a South African Savanna.


Herbivores generally have strong structural and compositional effects on vegetation, which in turn determines the plant forage species available. We investigated how selected large mammalian herbivore assemblages use and alter herbaceous vegetation structure and composition in a southern African savanna in and adjacent to the Kruger National Park, South Africa. We compared mixed and mono-specific herbivore assemblages of varying density and investigated similarities in vegetation patterns under wildlife and livestock herbivory. Grass species composition differed significantly, standing biomass and grass height were almost twice as high at sites of low density compared to high density mixed wildlife species. Selection of various grass species by herbivores was positively correlated with greenness, nutrient content and palatability. Nutrient-rich Urochloa mosambicensis Hack. and Panicum maximum Jacq. grasses were preferred forage species, which significantly differed in abundance across sites of varying grazing pressure. Green grasses growing beneath trees were grazed more frequently than dry grasses growing in the open. Our results indicate that grazing herbivores appear to base their grass species preferences on nutrient content cues and that a characteristic grass species abundance and herb layer structure can be matched with mammalian herbivory types.

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