The spatial extent of termite influences on herbivore browsing in an African savanna

Shaun R. Levick, Gregory P. Asner, Ty Kennedy-Bowdoin, David E. Knapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Termite mounds form islands of fertility in savanna landscapes and create foraging hotspots for herbivores, but the magnitude and spatial extent of these influences is unknown. We mapped terrain, termite mound and woody vegetation three-dimensional (3-D) structure at 56cm resolution across a large-scale (254ha), long-term (34 years) herbivore exclusion experiment in the Kruger National Park, with the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO). We compared vegetation 3-D structure in areas protected from herbivores with those accessible to herbivores, both on termite mounds and in the landscape matrix between termite mounds. Termite mound density was 1.1ha-1 across the study area and mound size did not differ between protected and accessible areas. Woody vegetation canopy cover was ∼100% greater on protected than accessible mounds, but was only ∼20% greater in the protected inter-mound matrix when compared to the accessible matrix. Woody canopy height class distributions differed significantly between protected and accessible areas, with the tallest vegetation (>10m) occurring on protected termite mounds. The impacts of herbivore browsing were evident at distances of up to 20m from termite mound centres. Spatial analysis of mound distribution revealed that the sphere of termite mound influence constitutes ∼20% of the total landscape. Termite influences on herbivore browsing operate at scales much larger than the spatial extent of their mound building activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2462-2467
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Foraging
  • Herbivory
  • LiDAR
  • Savanna
  • Scale
  • Termite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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