Ecosystem Engineers: Elephant Eating Habits Influence Lizard Habitat Choices

Tue, 2008-01-29 22:54 by Jan

Ecosystem Engineers: Elephant Eating Habits Influence Lizard Habitat Choices

Jan. 28, 2008

It is like the premise of a popular home improvement show: in the before photos, the surroundings are undesirable and in the after shot there's lots of attractive spaces to grab a meal, start a family and relax in seclusion from life's stresses. The difference here is that the potential new homeowner is a lizard and the renovations come -- not from a sophisticated Manhattan designer -- but instead from a herd of elephants. An examination of the connections between elephants and lizards appears in the journal Ecology, where a researcher reports that the elephants' eating habits have a strong influence on the lizards' habitat choices. The results demonstrate an important and little understood aspect of ecosystem engineering, and may help land managers working on wildlife refuges in Africa.

Working at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya between 2004 and 2007, the author of the report, Robert M. Pringle of Stanford University, found that Kenya dwarf geckos (Lygodactylus keniensis) showed a strong preference for trees which had been damaged by browsing elephants (Loxodontia africana). In fact, the local lizard population increased proportionally with the number of damaged trees. By contrast, lizards were virtually absent from undamaged trees in the same study area.

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Hans's picture

Elephant population management

Wed, 2008-01-30 09:40 by Hans

Thanks for this very interesting article!

However, on the side this article again contains the oft-repeated claim that elephants destroy their own environment and need to be managed:

… Elephants, however, eat a tremendous amount, and their eating habits can be especially destructive in smaller tracts of land. Since they have no real natural predators besides humans, they can sometimes eat themselves out of house and home in the areas where they are protected from hunters.

Because of these management dilemmas, finding an "optimum number" of elephants for any given refuge or wildlife area has become a hot topic. …

Of course these journalists and park managers conveniently forget that elephants have been there for many more millions of years than humans, that they were never managed and never destroyed their habitat.

Why is it so difficult to get the concept of ecological balance into these peoples' heads? The reason is simple. They believe deeply in human supremacy. In fact they want human farms and settlements instead of wild elephant country. They want elephants confined in controllable areas, no bigger than necessary for the tourists to look at and pay for.

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