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Sex differences in feeding-patch choice in a megaherbivore: elephants in Chobe National Park, Botswana

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Differences in diet and patch choices of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) according to sex and herd structure were examined during the dry season in a dystrophic savanna-woodland ecosystem in northern Botswana. The study revealed that female elephants with dependent young fed more selectively than the very large adult males, as indicated by the large number of woody plant species utilised, in order to minimise fibre intake, at both the woody plant species level and the feeding-patch level. Adult females fed on more woody plant species per unit area in patches containing higher numbers of such plants than adult males. Family units also browsed on more woody plant species per unit area and in total than adult males. Finally, family units discriminated between patches in their surroundings and selected patches offering the highest density of palatable species, whereas males were apparently ignorant of the distribution of resources in their environment and browsed in patches containing the same amount and combination of species as surrounding areas. This suggests that body size is a paramount factor mediating dietary differences between the sexes in African elephants at both the feeding-patch and the woody plant species level. These findings are consistent with the sexual dimorphism - body size hypothesis, which states that an increase in body size leads to a relaxation of the requirement for selectivity in feeding.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1999-11-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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