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African Savannas Faces Threat Due to Loss of Wildlife, Study

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

Loss of large animals leads to adverse consequences in African savannas, according to a University of California Davis and Bard College study.

For the study, the researchers conducted experiments at the Kenya Long-term Exclusion Experiment (KLEE) in the Laikipia plateau where they removed large grazing mammals from plots of savanna land. For the last 19 years, researchers from the University and KLEE excluded wildlife and livestock from 18 different 10-acre savanna plots and observed the results.

The researchers found that populations of small mammals like pouched mouse doubled, which  attracted poisonous snakes like the olive hissing snake, and destroyed tree seedlings. Plus, the disappearance of wildlife increased the flea and tick populations that heightened the risk of transmission of flea- and tick-borne pathogens.

"The results of this long-term study show that preserving large mammals in African savannas can be a win-win for conservation and for human welfare," lead author Felicia Keesing, a biology professor at Bard College, said in a statement. "Large mammals like giraffes, zebras, and elephants keep rodents in check, which in turn reduces the number of venomous snakes and the number of fleas that can transmit diseases. Through their effects on rodents, large mammals also increase the survival of tree seedlings."

The finding indicates that if the needs of both wildlife and humans are properly taken care of, it could provide a lasting benefit to both the communities.

"The relationship between wildlife and livestock is complicated," Young said. "But the negative impact of wildlife on livestock is often less severe than we'd have guessed, mitigated by the kinds of responses we have seen in the rodents."

African savannas with abundant populations of wildlife and plants are one of the most productive grasslands on Earth. It features different kinds of plants (acacia Senegal, candelabra tree and jackalberry among others), animals (lions, African wildcats and klipspringer among others) and has the largest diversity of hoofed animals in the world (antelopes, wildebeest and buffalos), Blue Plant Biomes reports.

The Serengeti plains, a grass savanna with nutrient-rich volcanic sand, comprises of 2 million large plant-eating mammals; 45 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, and 55 species of acacia - a genus of trees and shrubs.

This study was published in the journal Bioscience.

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