Hippopotamus and livestock grazing: influences on riparian vegetation and facilitation of other herbivores in the Mara Region of Kenya uri icon

abstract

  • Riparian savanna habitats grazed by hippopotamus or livestock experience seasonal ecological stresses through the depletion of herbaceous vegetation, and are often points of contacts and conflicts between herbivores, humans and their livestock. We investigated how hippopotamus and livestock grazing influence vegetation structure and cover and facilitate other wild herbivores in the Mara region of Kenya. We used 5 km-long transects, each with 13 plots measuring 10 x 10 m(2), and which radiate from rivers in the Masai Mara National Reserve and adjoining community pastoral ranches. For each plot, we measured the height and visually estimated the percent cover of grasses, forbs, shrubs and bare ground, herbivore abundance and species richness. Our results showed that grass height was shortest closest to rivers in both landscapes, increased with increasing distance from rivers in the reserve, but was uniformly short in the pastoral ranches. Shifting mosaics of short grass lawns interspersed with patches of medium to tall grasses occurred within 2.5 km of the rivers in the reserve in areas grazed habitually by hippos. Hence, hippo grazing enhanced the structural heterogeneity of vegetation but livestock grazing had a homogenizing effect in the pastoral ranches. The distribution of biomass and the species richness of other ungulates with distance from rivers followed a quadratic pattern in the reserve, suggesting that hippopotamus grazing attracted more herbivores to the vegetation patches at intermediate distances from rivers in the reserve. However, the distribution of biomass and the species richness of other ungulates followed a linear pattern in the pastoral ranches, implying that herbivores avoided areas grazed heavily by livestock in the pastoral ranches, especially near rivers.

publication date

  • 2013
  • 2013