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Termite mounds may not be foraging hotspots for mega-herbivores in a nutrient-rich matrix

  • Justice Muvengwi (a1) (a2), Monicah Mbiba (a1) (a2) and Tatenda Nyenda (a2)

Our study investigated the influence of termitaria on vegetation utilization by elephants in Chewore North, Zimbabwe. Ten termite mounds and ten similar sized control plots were surveyed for soil nutrients, tree species diversity and plant biomass removal by elephants. Termite mounds had higher mean (± SE) concentrations of P, Ca, Mg and Na (0.15 ± 0.01, 48.8 ± 9.32, 5.78 ± 1.59 and 0.47 ± 0.12 meq per 100 g respectively) than control plots (0.05 ± 0.01, 3.33 ± 0.56, 1.53 ± 0.22 and 0.19 ± 0.02 meq per 100 g). However, Shannon Wiener index of tree diversity did not vary significantly between termite mounds (1.13 ± 0.280) and their control plots (0.827 ± 0.469). Contrary to most studies investigating patterns of vegetation utilization by large mammalian herbivores on termitaria, biomass removal was five times more on control plots than termite mounds. No difference in biomass removal was noted for Colophospermum mopane which had enough replicates for statistical analysis both on termite mounds and control plots. Our study negates the hypothesis that nutrient-rich soil patches will act as feeding hotspots for large mammalian herbivores. We concluded that vegetation utilization by elephants may be tree species specific, particularly in nutrient-rich environments.

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