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Elephant engineers
Date:1/28/2008

It is like the premise of a popular home improvement show: in the before photos, the surroundings are undesirable and in the after shot theres lots of attractive spaces to grab a meal, start a family and relax in seclusion from lifes stresses. The difference here is that the potential new homeowner is a lizard and the renovations come -- not from a sophisticated Manhattan designer -- but instead from a herd of elephants. An examination of the connections between elephants and lizards appears this month in the journal Ecology, where a researcher reports that the elephants eating habits have a strong influence on the lizards habitat choices. The results demonstrate an important and little understood aspect of ecosystem engineering, and may help land managers working on wildlife refuges in Africa.

Working at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya between 2004 and 2007, the author of the report, Robert M. Pringle of Stanford University, found that Kenya dwarf geckos (Lygodactylus keniensis) showed a strong preference for trees which had been damaged by browsing elephants (Loxodontia africana). In fact, the local lizard population increased proportionally with the number of damaged trees. By contrast, lizards were virtually absent from undamaged trees in the same study area.

Further investigations revealed that the preference was due to hiding places which were incidentally created by the elephants activities.

Pringles results are important from a theoretical as well as management standpoint. Ecosystem engineering -- the idea that activities of one kind of animal can create habitat for other animals -- is a relatively new concept, having emerged only about 15 years ago. When examining such engineers, ecologists would like to predict whether their activities will have a positive or negative impact on the abundance of other species in the same ecosystem. In the past, some scientists have hypothesized that when the engineers (such a
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Contact: Nadine Lymn
nadine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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