Agriculture World

Elephant Declines Imperil Africa's Forests

Poaching and habitat loss have reduced forest elephant populations in Central Africa by 63 percent since 2001. This poses consequences not only for elephants but also for the region’s forests, a new study finds. Without intervention to stop poaching, as much as 96 percent of Central Africa’s forests will undergo major changes in tree-species composition and structure as local populations of elephants disappear and surviving populations are crowded into ever-smaller forest remnants.

Elephants are ecological engineers that help create and maintain forest habitat by dispersing seeds,recycling and spreading nutrients, and clearing under stories .As they are very large animals, they can eat fruits and disperse seeds too big for other animals to digest As they are highly mobile, they help disperse these seeds far and wide through their dung.In the elephants’ absence, scores of tree species may be left without a means of long-distance seed dispersal, which is essential for forest structure and colonization. Trees whose seeds are dispersed bys maller animals could fill the void, dramatically altering forest composition.

Fewer elephants will also mean a more limited distribution of the nutrients contained in their dung. Many of Central Africa’s forests are nitrogen limited. Elephants help compensate by moving nutrients, especially nitrogen, across the landscapeas they defecate. If populations continue to shrink, this nitrogen will be concentrated in smaller and smaller areas, limiting future tree growth else where. Stopping poaching is an urgently needed first step to mitigating these effects. Long-term conservation will require land-use planning that incorporates elephant habitat in to forested landscapes that are being rapidly transformed by industrial agriculture and logging.



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