Abstract Detail


Thambiliya Godage, Supun Lahiru Prakash [1], Jia, Yamin [1], Weerakoon, Devaka [2], P. Kudavidanage, Enoka [3], Campos-Arceiz, Ahimsa [4], Chau, Marian M. [5], Manage Goodale, Uromi [1].

Botanical diversity of the elephant diet across Africa and Asia: review of current knowledge, potential future research directions, and habitat restoration needs.

Elephants are the largest terrestrial animals and the largest herbivores on earth, limited to three species across Africa and Asia - African savannah elephant (ASE; Loxodonta africana Blumenbach), African forest elephant (AFE; Loxodonta cyclotis Matschie) and Asian elephant (AE; Elephas maximus L.). Due to their vital role in forest regeneration and structural maintenance they are recognized as a keystone species. However, these ‘Mega-gardeners’ are on the edge of extinction due to continued habitat loss and fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, and poaching and illegal trade. We conducted a detailed search in Web of Science and Google Scholar, using the search terms “African elephants”, “Asian elephants”, and “diet” to consolidate the scientific understanding of the botanical diversity of elephant diet and compiled a list of flora from the published literature. Then, for each identified plant species in their diet, the autecological information relevant for achieving elephant habitat restoration and reforestation were collected using web based published resources to assess gaps in knowledge with a focus on the direction of future research needs. Our search resulted in 32 peer-reviewed and 2 non-peer reviewed manuscripts published between 1998 and 2022, which were conducted in 39 locations in 15 countries (ASE: Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe; AFE: Congo and AE: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand). The dietary botanical diversity consisted of 858 plant species belonging to 130 families and species per study ranged from 6 to 258. This list included 661 dicotyledons, 188 monocotyledons, 7 pteridophytes, and 2 gymnosperms. The flora in the elephant diet were dominated by Fabaceae, Poaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Arecaceae, and Moraceae families (126, 83, 40, 36, and 34 species, respectively). Commonest life form was trees (451) followed by shrubs (152), herbs (148), grasses (58), and vines (49). Of the 34 studies, 16 evaluated the diet using dung samples, which included cumulatively 530 spp. Eleven studies examining seasonal variations in the number of species consumed by the elephants found that, in six of them, diversity of elephant diet was higher in wet season compared to the dry season, and in four the opposite trend was found, with no seasonal difference seen in one study. However, 15 of the 34 studies had incomplete taxonomic identification of flora, which ranged from 1% to 50% of the total dietary flora. Approximately, 30% of the most frequent dietary flora (10% of 858 species) had peer reviewed, published scientific information on species’ autecology, regeneration ecology, seed biophysiology, seed storage behavior and seedling nursery maintenance. Surprisingly, less than 1% of the species had published information on restoration or reforestation trials.  This review highlights the need for greater knowledge of the taxonomy, regeneration eco-physiology, seed conservation, and restoration ecology of the elephant dietary flora. Such knowledge is a prerequisite for the habitat restoration or reforestation, which can overcome the restricted ranges due to fragmentation of these enigmatic species’ habitats. Therefore, we call attention to ensure their long-term survival through greater understanding of the regeneration ecology of their dietary flora.

1 - Guangxi University, College of Forestry, Nanning 530005, Guangxi, China
2 - University of Colombo, Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, Sri Lanka
3 - Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, Department of Natural Resources, Sri Lanka
4 - Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, , Mengla 666303, China
5 - Terraformation, Forestry, 73-4485 Kahilihili Street, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740, USA

Elephant Diet
Elephant Frugivory
Habitat Restoration

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Number: EC04007
Abstract ID:955
Candidate for Awards:Ecological Section Best Graduate Student Paper

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