A systematic review of elephant impact across Africa

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 15
  • SDG 13
  • Abstract:

    Contradictory findings among scientific studies that address a particular issue may impede the conversion of science to management implementation. A systematic review of peerreviewed studies to generate a single outcome may overcome this problem. The contentious topic of the impact that a megaherbivore such as the savanna elephant have for other species and their environment can benefit from such an approach. After some 68 years, 367 peer-reviewed papers covered the topic and 51 of these papers provided sufficient data to be included in a meta-analysis. We separated the direct impact that elephants had on trees and herbs from the indirect effects on other vertebrates, invertebrates, and soil properties. Elephants have an impact on tree structure and abundance but no overall negative cascading effects for species that share space with them. Primary productivity explained a small amount of variation of elephant impact on vegetation. Elephant numbers (density), study duration, rainfall, tree cover, and the presence of artificial water and fences failed to describe patterns of impact. We conclude that published information do not support the calls made for artificially manipulating elephant numbers to ameliorate elephant impact, and call for the management of space use by elephants to maintain savanna heterogeneity.