Drought-Response Strategies of Savanna Herbivores

Meeting Abstract

P1-293  Friday, Jan. 4 15:30 – 17:30  Drought-Response Strategies of Savanna Herbivores ABRAHAM, JO*; STAVER, AC; Yale University joel.abraham@yale.edu

Climate models have predicted increases in the frequency and severity of drought globally, with potential impacts on diverse systems, including African savannas. Among other things, droughts pose a concern for the conservation of the large mammal communities therein, and as such, understanding the behaviors that mammalian herbivores utilize to mitigate drought effects is vital. To evaluate herbivores responses to drought, we examined herbivore diet composition and landscape use in Kruger National Park, South Africa, during and after a severe but heterogeneous drought that occurred from 2014 to 2016. We found that mixed feeders responded to drought by increasing their consumption of C3 trees, shrubs, and forbs, while grazers and megaherbivores moved away from severely droughted areas towards drought refugia. Results suggest that, while herbivores can respond to drought behaviorally, their responses may be partially constrained by their body size and feeding ecology. Grazers may be at particular risk, since frequent and severe droughts may not always generate drought refugia, especially in smaller and/or fenced reserves. Conservation schemes should recognize these constraints and work to facilitate the diverse responses of herbivores to drought.

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