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IJWESC Abstract

Transient feedback in woody vegetation response in aftermath of elephant culling history at Sengwa Wildlife Area, Zimbabwe

Tafangenyasha C.1*, Muchachavangwa S.2, Mvulah B.2, Makausi F.3, Gumbochuma S.3, Harrison A.3, Parakasingwa, L.4, Chinoitezvi E.4, Moyo G.1.

1Sengwa Wildlife Research Institute, Gokwe, Zimbabwe.
2Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe.
3Great Zimbabwe University, Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
4Mushandike College of Wildlife Management, P. Bag 9036, Masvingo Zimbabwe.

Accepted February 16, 2016

In Zimbabwe changes in woodlands caused by elephants and other factors were studied at Sengwa Wildlife Research Area with a long history of documented elephant population build up to 1965 followed by 24 years of sustained culling and 26 years of vegetation regeneration in aftermath of elephant culling. The hypothesis posited in literature of extirpation of woodlands by the elephant Loxodonta africana Blumenbach was investigated. A vegetation survey was conducted using belt transects to test the hypotheses that vegetation structure and relative abundance of certain plants differ from formerly degraded plots within the protected area. Nine sites consisting of paired plots on degraded and undegraded woodlands were selected. At each site composition, structure and damage levels were measured. Woody plants were assessed using 13 parameters. Formerly over utilized patches showed no significant differences (T - test p>.05) in height, girth and number of stems with regeneration plots. The hypothesis is rejected in a study that has seen the historically high densities of elephants alter forest structures where the vegetation may now be showing strong regeneration under the influence of adaptive management. The action variables limiting state in the transition of woody vegetation towards a climax include termite activity, disease, herbivory and drought among other factors. The results do not lend evidence to foreclose options in protecting woodlands by keeping elephant populations at certain low densities as this learning curve in adaptive management has shown in the study. The findings contribute to an understanding of earth observation processes, such as land cover change, climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Key words: Elephant – habitat interactions, vegetation change, semi-arid areas, Zimbabwe.

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