Title

How selective are elephants as agents of forest tree damage in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda?

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Ssali, F, Sheil, D & Nkurunungi, JB 2013, 'How selective are elephants as agents of forest tree damage in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda?', African Journal of Ecology, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 55-65.

Published version available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/aje.12006

Abstract

Elephants are locally concentrated in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Vegetation damage attributable to elephants appears to be increasing and may result in the modification of the forest. We examined the implied selectivity of stem damage due to elephants. We followed 26.84 km of recent elephant trails and used 122 plots to document tree damage in relation to species, stem sizes and locations. Of 897 trees (DBH ≥2 cm), 542 (60.4%) were intact, 22 (2.5%) debarked, 274 (30.5%) toppled and 172 (19.2%) had broken branches. Small trees were more likely to be pushed over or have their branches broken, whereas large trees were more commonly debarked. The species most frequently selected for damage included mid-successional species such as Newtonia buchananii, Myrianthus holstii and Chrysophyllum albidum. These species may be vulnerable to increasing elephant numbers. Our analyses using general linear models indicate that elephants are selective concerning where, how and what tree stems they damage. We found a higher incidence of elephant damage per-tree stem in open areas than in more closed areas, suggesting feedback in which elephants maintain open habitats that may be conducive for other species such as mountain gorillas. More work is needed to better determine how changing elephant numbers may influence Bwindi's conservation values.