Landscape Ecology

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 217–234 | Cite as

The response of elephants to the spatial heterogeneity of vegetation in a Southern African agricultural landscape

Research article


Based on the agricultural landscape of the Sebungwe in Zimbabwe, we investigated whether and how the spatial distribution of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) responded to spatial heterogeneity of vegetation cover based on data of the early 1980s and early 1990s. We also investigated whether and how elephant distribution responded to changes in spatial heterogeneity between the early 1980s and early 1990s. Vegetation cover was estimated from a normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI). Spatial heterogeneity was estimated from a new approach based on the intensity (i.e., the maximum variance exhibited when a spatially distributed landscape property such as vegetation cover is measured with a successively increasing window size or scale) and dominant scale (i.e., the scale or window size at which the intensity is displayed). We used a variogram to quantify the dominant scale (i.e., range) and intensity (i.e., sill) of NDVI based congruent windows (i.e., 3.84 km × 3.84 km in a 61 km × 61 km landscape). The results indicated that elephants consistently responded to the dominant scale of spatial heterogeneity in a unimodal fashion with the peak elephant presence occurring in environments with dominant scales of spatial heterogeneity of around 457–734 m. Both the intensity and dominant scale of spatial heterogeneity predicted 65 and 68% of the variance in elephant presence in the early 1980s and in the early 1990s respectively. Also, changes in the intensity and dominant scale of spatial heterogeneity predicted 61% of the variance in the change in elephant distribution. The results imply that management decisions must take into consideration the influence of the levels of spatial heterogeneity on elephants in order to ensure elephant persistence in agricultural landscapes.


African elephant Dominant scale Intensity NDVI Spatial heterogeneity Windowed variogram 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, P.B., Raff, D.A., Lauenroth, W.K. 2001The effect of grazing on the spatial heterogeneity of vegetationOecologia128465474Google Scholar
  2. Birky, A.K. 2001NDVI and a simple model of deciduous forest seasonal dynamicsEcological Modelling1434358Google Scholar
  3. Burton, M. 1999An assessment of alternative methods of estimating the effect of the ivory trade ban on poaching effortEcological Economics3093106Google Scholar
  4. Cohen, W.B., Spies, T.A., Bradshaw, G.A. 1990Semivariograms of digital imagery for analysis of conifer canopy structureRemote Sensors Environment34167178Google Scholar
  5. Cumming, D.H.M. 1981

    The management of elephant and other large mammals in Zimbabwe

    Jewel, P.A.Holt, S.Hart, D. eds. In problems in Management of Locally Abundant Wild AnimalsAcademic Press Inc.New York91118
    Google Scholar
  6. Cumming D.H.M. and Lynam T.P.J. 1997. Land use changes, Wildlife Conservation and Utilisation and the Sustainability of Agro-ecosystems in the Zambezi Valley, Final Technical ReportVols. 1–7, Rep. No. European Union Contract B7-50440/93/06. WWF Project ZW0024. WWF, Harare.Google Scholar
  7. Curran, P.J. 1983The semivariogram in remote sensing: an introductionRemote Sensors Environment24493507Google Scholar
  8. Diggle, P.J. 1983Statistical Analysis of Spatial Point PatternsAcademic pressLondonGoogle Scholar
  9. du Toit, J.T. 1995Determinants of the composition and distribution of wildlife communities in southern AfricaAmbio2426Google Scholar
  10. du Toit, R. 1985A middle way for wildlife parksNew Science1053336Google Scholar
  11. Dunham, K.M. 1986Movements of elephant cows in the unflooded Middle Zambezi Valley, ZimbabweAfrican Journal of Ecology.24287291Google Scholar
  12. Fahrig, L. 2001How much habitat is enough?Biological Conservation6574Google Scholar
  13. Fotheringham, A.S., Brundson, C., Charlton, M. 2000Quantitative Geography: Perspectives on Spatial Data AnalysisSAGE publications LtdLondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Goodchild, M.F., Quattrochi, D.A. 1997

    ScaleMultiscaling, Remote Sensing and GIS

    Quattrochi, D.A.Goodchild, M.F. eds. Scale in Remote Sensing and GISLewis PublishersNew York111
    Google Scholar
  15. Goward, S.N., Dye, D.G. 1987Evaluating North American net primary productivity with satellite observationsAdvanced Space Research7165174Google Scholar
  16. Griffith, J.A., Martinko, E.A., Price, K.P. 2000Landscape structure analysis of Kansas at three scalesLandscape Urban Planning524561Google Scholar
  17. Gustafson, E.J. 1998Quantifying landscape spatial pattern: what is the state of the art?Ecosystems1143156Google Scholar
  18. Guy, P.R. 1976bDiurnal activity patterns of elephant in the Sengwa AreaRhodesiaEast African Wildlife Journal14285295Google Scholar
  19. Guy, P.R. 1976bThe feeding behaviour of elephant (Loxodonta africana) in the Sengwa AreaRhodesiaSouth African Journal of Wildlife Research65563Google Scholar
  20. Hill, M.J., Donald, G.E. 2003Estimating spatio-temporal patterns of agricultural productivity in fragmented landscapes using AVHRR NDVI time seriesRemote Sensors Environment84367384Google Scholar
  21. Hoare, R.E., Du Toit, J.T. 1999Co-existence between people and elephants in African SavannasConservation Biology13633639Google Scholar
  22. ITC, R.G. 2002Integrated Land and Water Information System (ILWIS)ITCEnschedeThe NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  23. IUCN,2002,IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Vol. 2003. www.redlist.orgGoogle Scholar
  24. Jansson, G. 2002Scaling and habitat proportions in relation to bird diversity in managed boreal forestsForest Ecology and Management1577786Google Scholar
  25. Johnson, A.R., Wiens, J.A., Milne, B.T., Crist, T.O. 1992Animal movements and population dynamics in heterogeneous landscapesLandscape Ecology76375Google Scholar
  26. Kareiva, P., Wennergren, U. 1995Connecting landscape patterns to ecosystem and population processesNature373299302Google Scholar
  27. Kerr J.T. and Ostrovysky M. 2003. From space to species: ecological applications for remote sensing. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Google Scholar
  28. Kingdon, J. 2001The Kingdon Field Guide to African MammalsAcademic PressLondonGoogle Scholar
  29. Lam L,2001,An Introduction of S-PLUS CANdiensten,AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  30. Legendre, P. 1998Numerical EcologyElsevierAmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  31. Legendre, P., Fortin, M. 1989Spatial pattern and ecological analysisVegetatio80107138Google Scholar
  32. Levin, S.A. 1992The problem of pattern and scale in ecologyEcology7319431967Google Scholar
  33. Li, X., Lu, L., Cheng, G., Xiao, H. 2001Quantifying landscape structure of the Heihe River Basin, north-west China using FRAGSTATSJournal of Arid Environments48521535Google Scholar
  34. Logan, B.I., Moseley, W.G. 2002The political ecology of poverty alleviation in Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE)Geoforum33114Google Scholar
  35. Los S.O. 1998. Linkages between global vegetation and climate: an analysis based on NOAA Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer Data. PhD Vrije Univesiteit te AmsterdamAmsterdam.Google Scholar
  36. Lynam, A.J., Billick, I. 1999Differential responses of small mammals to fragmentation in a Thailand tropical forestBiological Conservation91191200Google Scholar
  37. McGrigal K. and Cushman S.A. 2002. The gradient concept of landscape structureVol. 2003. http://www Google Scholar
  38. Morrison, M.L., Marcot, B.G., Mannan, R.W. 1992Wildlife–Habitat Relationships: Concepts and ApplicationsThe University of Wisconsin PressWisconsinGoogle Scholar
  39. Murwira A. and Skidmore A.K. 2003. Characterising the spatial heterogeneity of a landscape. Under revision, International Journal of Geographical Information Science.Google Scholar
  40. Myers, D.E. 1997

    Statistical models for multiple-scaled analysis

    Quattrochi, D.A.Goodchild, M.F. eds. Scale in Remote Sensing and GISLewis PublishersNew York273307
    Google Scholar
  41. Oindo, B.O., Skidmore, A.K. 2001Interannual variability of NDVI and species richness in KenyaInternational Journal of Remote Sensors23285298Google Scholar
  42. Osborn, F.V., Parker, G.E. 2003Linking two elephant refuges with a corridor in the communal lands of ZimbabweAfrican Journal of Ecology416874Google Scholar
  43. Pearson, D.M. 2002The application of local measures of spatial autocorrelation for describing pattern in north Australian landscapesJournal of Environmental Management648595PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Pickett, S.T.A., Rogers, K.H. 1997

    Patch dynamics: the transformation of landscape structure and function

    Bissonette, J.A. eds. Wildlife and Landscape Ecology: Effects of Pattern and ScaleSpringerNew York101127
    Google Scholar
  45. Rietkerk, M., van de Koppel, J., Kumar, L., van Langevelde, F., Prins, H.H.T. 2002The ecology of scale: EditorialEcological Modelling14914Google Scholar
  46. Said M.Y. 2003. Multiscale perspectives of species richness in East Africa. PhD, ITC and Wageningen, EnschedeThe Netherlands.Google Scholar
  47. Scholes, R.J. 1997


    Cowling, R.M.Richardson, D.M.Pierce, S.M. eds. Vegetation of Southern Africa CowlingCambridge University PressCambridge258277
    Google Scholar
  48. Song, C., Woodcock, C.E.K.S., Lenney, M.P., Macomber, S.A. 2001Classification and change detection using landsat TM data: when and how to correct atmospheric effectsRemote Sensors Environment75230244Google Scholar
  49. Southwood, T.R.E. 1977Habitatthe template for ecological strategies? presidential address to the British ecological society 5 January 1997Journal of Animal Ecology4 337365Google Scholar
  50. Sparrow, , A.D.,  1999A heterogeneity of heterogeneitiesTrends in Ecology and Evolution14422423PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Timberlake, J.R., Nobanda, N., Mapaure, I. 1993Vegetation survey of the communal lands-north and west ZimbabweKirkia: The Zimbabwe Journal of Botany14171271Google Scholar
  52. Treitz, P., Howarth, P. 2000High spatial resolution remote sensing data for forest ecosystem classification: an examination of spatial scaleRemote Sensors Environment72268289Google Scholar
  53. Tucker, C.J., Sellers, P.J. 1986Satellite remote sensing and primary productionInternational Journal of Remote Sensors713951416Google Scholar
  54. Turner, M.G. 1989Landscape ecology: the effect of pattern on processAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics20171197Google Scholar
  55. Turner, D.P., Cohen, W.B., Kennedy, R.E., Fassnacht, K.S., Briggs, J.M. 1999Relationships between Leaf Area Index and Landsat TM Spectral Vegetation Indices across Three Temperate Zone SitesRemote Sensors Environment705268Google Scholar
  56. Turner, M.G., Pearson, S.M., Romme, W.H., Wallace, L.L. 1997

    Landscape heterogeneity and ungulate dynamics: what spatial scale are important

    Bissonette, J.A. eds. Wildlife and Landscape Ecology: Effects of Pattern and ScaleSpringerNew York331348
    Google Scholar
  57. Wackernagel, H. 1998Multivariate GeostatisticsSpringerBerlinGoogle Scholar
  58. Walsh, S.J., Crawford, T.W., Welsh, W.F., Crews-Meyer, K.A. 2001A multiscale analysis of LULC and NDVI variation in Nang Rong district northeast ThailandAgricultureEcosystems and Environment854764Google Scholar
  59. Walsh, J.S., Moody, A., Allen, T.R., Brown, D.G. 1997

    Scale dependence of NDVI and its relationship to Mountainous Terrain

    Quattrochi, D.A.Goodchild, M.F. eds. In Scale in Remote Sensing and GISLewis PublishersNew York2755
    Google Scholar
  60. Webster, R. 2000Is soil variation random?Geoderma97149163Google Scholar
  61. Wiens, J.A. 1989Spatial scaling in ecologyFunctional Ecology3385397Google Scholar
  62. With, K.A., Crist, T.O. 1995Critical thresholds in species responses to landscape structureEcology7624462459Google Scholar
  63. Yapp, R.H. 1922The concept of habitatJournal of Ecology10117Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental ScienceUniversity of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe
  2. 2.International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) EnschedeThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations