Elephant- and human-induced changes to dung beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) assemblages in the Maputaland Centre of Endemism

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2006
Authors:A. Botes, McGeoch, M. A., van Rensburg, B. J.
Journal:Biological Conservation
Keywords:Carrying capacity, Conservation management, Habitat conversion, insect conservation, Protected areas

High African elephant stocking rates in nature reserves in southern Africa have been shown to have significant impacts on vegetation structure and diversity. However, the direct and indirect effects of elephants on fauna, particularly invertebrates, remain poorly known. The Maputaland Centre of Endemism, an area of southern Mozambique and northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, is undergoing rapid rates of habitat conversion. Sand Forest, the rarest vegetation type in the Centre, is threatened by human disturbance outside of protected areas and by elephant browsing pressure in Tembe Elephant Park, one of the few protected areas for Sand Forest. Here we examine the effects of elephant- and human-induced disturbance to Sand Forest on a functionally important component of invertebrate diversity, i.e. the dung beetle fauna. The dung beetle assemblage associated with elephant-disturbed Sand Forest was transitional between undisturbed Sand Forest and Mixed Woodland, whereas that associated with human disturbance was markedly different to either habitat type. Differences are attributed to a change in habitat structure under both disturbance types, as well as to changes in the quality and distribution of dung under human disturbance. Therefore, grazing impacts by elephant not only affect plant diversity, but also implement changes in invertebrate fauna. The maintenance of the integrity of the Sand Forest-Mixed Woodland matrix is considered critical for biodiversity conservation in the Maputaland Centre of Endemism. Management of elephant populations, as well as the protection of sufficient Sand Forest inside conservation areas must, therefore, necessarily form part of the conservation strategy for the Centre.

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