Abstract:

Monitoring woody vegetation changes in Majete Wildlife Reserve (Malawi) and around water points after African elephant re-introductions and artificial waterhole development

Jess Wienand

With increasing human populations in southern Africa, the challenges to protecting wildlife in national parks and game reserves are mounting. Pressure to prevent illegal exploitation of wildlife and natural resources in protected areas, as well as to protect people in rural areas from wildlife, has led to more protected areas being fenced. Fences create closed systems, thus placing a limit on the size of wildlife populations which can be supported by these areas. When fenced protected areas contain elephants it is essential that their impacts on vegetation are carefully monitored in order to prevent overuse or a loss of plant biodiversity. Elephants are known as ecosystem engineers due to their size, destructive feeding habits and large fodder requirements. As elephants are also a water dependent species, surface water availability and distribution can greatly influence the extent and nature of elephant impacts on vegetation within an area. My research is based in Majete Wildlife Reserve, southern Malawi, into which elephants (and other wild herbivores) have been reintroduced after over a decade of their absence. The reserve is fully fenced and contains several artificial waterholes, as well as two perennial rivers and numerous springs. This research will determine whether elephant water point usage differs between sites and will determine which factors influence this (for example, season, artificial water point vs. natural, proximity to other water points etc). Levels of elephant browsing around these water points will then be compared. Fieldwork entails the monitoring of selected water points and vegetation sampling along transects from the water points. Vegetation changes within the reserve since the elephant reintroductions will also be determined through the remote-sensing of satellite images. Images will be classified into “forest” and “non-forest” cover and comparisons will be made across a time-series; 1985 (when indigenous elephant populations existed in Majete), 1990, 2000 and 2010 (four years after wildlife reintroductions). The development of “non-forest” patches since 2000 will be analysed and, by using digital overlays, we will determine whether elevation, vegetation type, fire history, proximity to water and approximate herbivore densities have driven this development. This research will inform the reserve‚Äôs decisions as to elephant population management, artificial waterhole creation and vegetation management.

Presentation Topic

Monitoring woody vegetation changes in Majete Wildlife Reserve (Malawi) and around water points after African elephant re-introductions and artificial waterhole development

 

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Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University

 

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