The influences of habitat structure and landscape heterogeneity on African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) group size in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/0k225f14j

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  • This study aimed to connect habitat and landscape scale variation, through time and space, to wildlife population dynamics. I studied African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) group size according to habitat structure, landscape heterogeneity, forage quality, and water availability in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa. I used two approaches to study grouping behavior of buffalo-daily field observations and digital vegetation classification and mapping home range areas to quantify seasonal and geographic changes. Daily buffalo observations included a record of tree and shrub density within habitat patches and buffalo group counts. I concluded that buffalo occurred in smaller groups during the dry season. During both seasons, buffalo maintained larger groups in more open habitat and in the dry season, group size also depended on grass quality. To examine landscape heterogeneity, a Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) satellite image was classified into structural vegetation types and radio tracking data from ten herds were used to calculate and delineate home range area. Vegetation structure and water availability were summarized in each home range area and an average buffalo group size was calculated for each herd in each season. During the dry season, average vegetation density was the only significant influence on group size. Again, buffalo maintained larger groups in more open areas. During the wet season, vegetation density did not affect group size, but the heterogeneity of vegetation types within the home range did. Buffalo were found in larger groups in more heterogeneous home range areas. The total size of the herd was also a significant influence in the wet season. Larger herds maintained larger average groups. I also determined the influence of vegetation structure and landscape heterogeneity on group size variability within herds. During the dry season, variability was affected by home range heterogeneity, total herd size, and, marginally, by water availability. In the dry season, more variability was observed in heterogeneous areas and areas with more permanent water. Larger herds also had more group size variability than small herds. In the wet season variability was determined by total herd size only. Larger herds had more variability than small herds. This study has important implications in terms of wildlife management. I have shown that habitat structure, forage availability, and landscape heterogeneity significantly affect buffalo population dynamics. I have also presented a method to quantify vegetation factors on a landscape scale and determine how those factors can influence wildlife populations. The map of structural vegetation can also be used to examine the effects of landscape change, yearly burning regimes, and large herbivores on the reserve's ecosystem.
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