Skip to main content Accessibility help

Termitaria as preferred browsing patches for black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Chipinge Safari Area, Zimbabwe

  • Justice Muvengwi (a1) (a2), Hilton G. T. Ndagurwa (a3) (a4), Tatenda Nyenda (a2) and Innocent Mlambo (a2)

This study tested the hypothesis that the black rhinoceros browses more on termitaria than off termitaria vegetation due to elevated soil and foliar nutrient levels on termitaria. We investigated the role of termitaria in providing nutrient-rich forage for the black rhinoceros, by comparing the preference (selection ratio) for vegetation occurring on and off termitaria, and then testing its relationship with foliar nutrient concentrations. Soil nutrients, bite intensity, tree species diversity, vegetation density, canopy cover and basal area were also surveyed on and off termitaria. We sampled 25 termite mounds together with their corresponding control plots in Chipinge Safari Area, Zimbabwe. Soil and foliar N, P, K, Ca and Na concentrations were greater on termitaria than off termitaria, with approximately twice the concentration of these nutrients. Browse preference followed the between-site differences in soil and foliar nutrient concentrations, with higher selection ratios and bite intensities for vegetation on termitaria than off termitaria. Diospyros quiloensis was the most preferred browse species whilst Combretum imberbe, Kigelia africana and Strychnos innocua were the least. In conclusion, the black rhino preferred vegetation on termitaria to that in the surrounding matrix, and utilization of vegetation can be influenced by the soil substrate on which tree species grow.

Corresponding author
1Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
ANDERSON, J. M. & INGRAM, J. S. I. 1993. Tropical soil biology and fertility: a handbook of methods. CABI, Wallingford. 221 pp.
ARSHAD, M. A. 1982. Influence of the termite Macrotermes michaelseni (Sjost) on soil fertility and vegetation in a semi-arid savanna ecosystem. Agro-Ecosystems 8:4758.
BRYANT, J. P., KUROPAT, P. J., COOPER, S. M., FRISBY, K. & OWEN-SMITH, N. 1989. Resource availability hypothesis of plant anti-herbivore defence tested in a South African savanna ecosystem. Nature 340:227229.
BLOESCH, U. 2008. Thicket clumps: a characteristic feature of the Kagera savanna landscape, East Africa. Journal of Vegetation Science 19:3144.
BROSSARD, M., LÓPEZ-HERNÁNDEZ, D., LEPAGE, M. & LEPRUN, J. 2007. Nutrient storage in soils and nests of mound-building Trinervitermes termites in Central Burkina Faso: consequences for soil fertility. Biology and Fertility of Soils 43:437447.
COLEY, P. D., BRYANT, J. P. & CHAPIN, F. S. 1985. Resource availability and plant anti-herbivore defence. Science 230:895899.
COOPER, S. M. & OWEN-SMITH, N. 1985. Condensed tannins deter feeding by browsing ruminants in a South African savanna. Oecologia 67:142146.
COOPER, S. M., OWEN-SMITH, N. & BRYANT, J. P. 1988. Foliage acceptability to browsing ruminants in relation to seasonal changes in the leaf chemistry of woody plants in a South African Savanna. Oecologia 75:336342.
CRAWLEY, M. J. 1983. Herbivory: the dynamics of animal–plant interactions. University of California Press, Berkeley. 437 pp.
DANGERFIELD, J. M. 1991. Soil modifications by Cubitermes sankurensis (Wassman) (Isoptera: Termitidae) within a miombo woodland site in Zimbabwe. African Journal of Ecology 29:267269.
DANGERFIELD, J., MCCARTHY, T. & ELLERY, W. 1998. The mound building termite Macrotermes michaelseni as an ecosystem engineer. Journal of Tropical Ecology 14:507520.
FLEMING, P. A. & LOVERIDGE, J. P. 2003. Miombo woodland termite mounds: resource islands for small vertebrates? Journal of Zoology London 259:161168.
GRANT, C. C. & SCHOLES, M. C. 2006. The importance of nutrient hot-spots in the conservation and management of large wild mammalian herbivores in semi-arid savannas. Biological Conservation 130:426437.
HOLDO, R. M. 2003. Woody plant damage by African elephants in relation to leaf nutrients in western Zimbabwe. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19:189196.
HOLDO, R. M. & MCDOWELL, L. R. 2004. Termite mounds as nutrient-rich food patches for elephants. Biotropica 36:231239.
JOSEPH, G. S., SEYMOUR, C. L., CUMMING, G. S., CUMMING, D. H. M. & MAHLANGU, Z. 2012. Termite mounds as islands: woody plant assemblages relative to termitarium size and soil properties. Journal of Vegetation Science 24:702711.
JOSEPH, G. S., SEYMOUR, C. L., CUMMING, G. S., MAHLANGU, Z. & CUMMING, D. H. M. 2013. Escaping the flames: large termitaria as refugia from fire in miombo woodland. Landscape Ecology. doi: 10.1007/s10980-013-9897-6.
JOSEPH, G. S., SEYMOUR, C. L., CUMMING, G. S., CUMMING, D. H. M. & MAHLANGU, Z. 2014. Termite mounds increase functional diversity of woody plants in African savannas. Ecosystems. doi: 10.1007/s10021-014-9761-9.
JOUQUET, P., DAUBER, J., LAGERLOF, J., LAVELLE, P. & LEPAGE, M. 2006. Soil invertebrates as ecosystem engineers: intended and accidental effects on soil and feedback loops. Applied Soil Ecology 32:153164.
KREBS, C. J. 1999. Ecological methodology. Harper & Row, New York. 645 pp.
LOVERIDGE, J. P. & MOE, S. R. 2004. Termitaria as browsing hotspots for African megaherbivores in miombo woodland. Journal of Tropical Ecology 20:337343.
MOBÆK, R., NARMO, A. K. & MOE, S. R. 2005. Termitaria are focal feeding sites for large ungulates in Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda. Journal of Zoology London 267:97102.
MOE, S. R., MOBÆK, R. & NARMO, A. K. 2009. Mound building termites contribute to savanna vegetation heterogeneity. Plant Ecology 202:3140.
MUVENGWI, J., MBIBA, M. & NYENDA, T. 2013. Termite mounds may not be foraging hotspots for mega-herbivores in a nutrient-rich matrix. Journal of Tropical Ecology 29:551558.
OKALEBO, J. R., GATHMA, K. W. & WOOMER, P. L. 2002. Laboratory methods of soil and plant analysis: a working manual. (Second edition.). Soil Science Society of East Africa, Nairobi. 128 pp.
OLOO, T. W., BRETT, R. A. & YOUNG, T. P. 1994. Seasonal variation in feeding ecology of black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis L.) in Laikipia, Kenya. African Journal of Ecology 32:142156.
PARRINI, F. & OWEN-SMITH, N. 2010. The importance of post-fire regrowth for sable antelope in a Southern African savanna. African Journal of Ecology 48:526534.
RACHLOW, J. L. & BERGER, J. 1998. Reproduction and population density: trade-offs for the conservation of rhinos in situ. Animal Conservation 1:101106.
RITCHIE, A. T. A. 1963. Rhino feeding behaviour. East African Wildlife Journal 1:5462.
RUGGIERO, R. D. & FAY, J. M. 1994. Utilization of termitaries soils by elephants and its ecological implications. African Journal of Ecology 32:222232.
SEYMOUR, C. L., MILEWSKI, A. V., MILLS, A. J., JOSEPH, G. S., CUMMING, G. S., CUMMING, D. H. M. & MAHLANGU, Z. 2014. Do the large termite mounds of Macrotermes concentrate micronutrients in addition to macronutrients in nutrient-poor African savannas? Soil Biology and Biochemistry 68:95105.
SILESHI, G. W., ARSHAD, M. A., KONATÉ, S. & NKUNIKA, P. O. Y. 2010. Termite-induced heterogeneity in African savanna vegetation: mechanisms and patterns. Journal of Vegetation Science 21:923937.
TATMAN, S. C., STEVENS-WOOD, B. & SMITH, V. B. T. 2000. Ranging behaviour and habitat usage in black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, in a Kenyan sanctuary. African Journal of Ecology 38:163172.
VAN DER PLAS, F., HOWISON, R., REINDERS, J., FOKKEMA, W. & OLFF, H. 2013. Functional traits of trees on and off termite mounds: understanding the origin of biotically-driven heterogeneity in savannas. Journal of Vegetation Science 24:227238.
WATSON, J. P. 1977. The use of mounds of the termite Macrotermes falciger (Gerstacker) as a soil amendment. Journal of Soil Science 28:664672.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Tropical Ecology
  • ISSN: 0266-4674
  • EISSN: 1469-7831
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-tropical-ecology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed