Large herbivore responses to surface water and land use in an East African savanna: implications for conservation and human-wildlife conflicts
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Water, forage and predation constrain ungulate distributions in savannas. To understand these constraints, we characterized distributions of 15 herbivore species from water, locations of peak density and degree of clustering around the peaks using zero-inflated count data models and mapping census data collected in the Mara reserve and the adjoining pastoral ranches in Kenya during a wet and dry year. Herbivores followed a humped pattern (n = 46), suggesting constrained foraging in which they balance the benefits of proximity to water with the costs of foraging where food is depleted near water and travelling to more abundant food distant from water; an exponentially decreasing pattern (n = 11), indicating strong attraction to water or vegetation near water; or a uniform (n = 3) pattern. The details rather than the types of these patterns varied between years. Herbivores concentrated farther from water and more tightly around locations of their peak densities in the ranches than the reserve. Herbivores were more abundant and widely distributed from water in the wet than the dry year, and segregated along the distance-to-water gradient, presumably to minimize interspecific competition for food. Pastoralism compressed herbivore distributions and partially excluded some species (warthog, hartebeest, topi, wildebeest, zebra, eland, buffalo and elephant) from, while attracting others (Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, impala, giraffe) to the ranches, relative to the reserve. Regulating cultivation, fencing, settlements and livestock stocking levels in the ranches would allow continued wildlife access to water, reduce competition with, displacement or harassment of wildlife by people, livestock and dogs near water.