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Proc Biol Sci. 1994 Apr 22;256(1345):77-82.

On the carrying capacity for large ungulates of African savanna ecosystems.

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  • 1CIRAD-EMVT Ecologie, Maisons-Alfort, France.


The effect of pastoral management on the standing crop biomass of large ungulates, an index of carrying capacity, is analysed at a regional level by using data compiled from published sources covering east and south Africa. The effect of primary production is controlled for by using two environmental factors, rainfall and soil nutrient availability, and the effect of species richness of the ungulate community is evaluated. The results confirm the dominant effect of rainfall, and demonstrate that soil nutrient levels also strongly affect the biomass of large ungulate communities. For a given level of rainfall, on rich soils (high nutrient availability) the biomass of large ungulates is about 20 times as great as on poor soils with low nutrient availability. The model based on rainfall and soil nutrient classes accounts for 87% of the variance in large ungulate biomass. Pastoral and natural ecosystems do not differ significantly in large ungulate biomass; there is therefore currently no evidence that extensive pastoral management increases carrying capacity for large ungulates above the levels observed in natural communities. Species richness, a measure of biodiversity, had a significant but very small effect on the biomass-rainfall relation in the complete data set. When analysed by pastoral management, the effect of this factor was significant for the set of natural ecosystems only. Pastoral management and species richness may therefore have compensatory effects. These results suggest that the carrying capacity is limited at the community, rather than the species, level.

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