"Elephants can feed on a wide range of vegetation, but if they can't move, they're more likely to focus on a particular species - such as a favorite tree - potentially removing it from a local area," said Wittemyer. "Being 'ecosystem engineers,' they are capable of changing wooded plains to complete grasslands. Elephants have huge space and resource needs, and are particularly impacted by land use changes. Fencing in these populations means blocking them from their normal behavior of dispersal and migration, and changing the dynamics of how they interact with their environment."
The new findings, published in the October issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, suggest that fencing can have other impacts not previously known on the social behavior of the elephants.
"What happens when elephant groups are forced into close contact with each other all the time" That's not yet clear," said Wittemyer. "Current elephant management plans do not yet consider the impact on social relationships."
Elephants are known for their complex social networks, with families of six to 12 individuals ruled by a matriarch. "They're one of the very few species that have a level of complexity in their social networks comparable to humans," said Wittemyer. "Studies have shown that elephants can distinguish more than 100 individuals just by their vocalization patterns."
The researchers individually recognize in northern Kenya over 900 elephants - including seven who were fitted with GPS collars. Over the course of nine years, they carefully observed elephant interaction, taking note of the telltale behavior of social dominance, such as the flarin
|Contact: Sarah Yang|
University of California - Berkeley