Spatiotemporal dynamics of forage and water resources shape space use of West African savanna buffaloes

Cornélis, D., S. Benhamou, G. Janeau, N. Morellet, M. Ouedraogo, and M.-N. de Visscher

We investigated space-use patterns of the West African savanna buffalo (Syncerus caffer brachyceros), a little studied subspecies occurring at the northern limit of the African buffalo’s geographical range. This buffalo generally ranges in small herds (about 45 individuals) and has a low body mass (approximately 400 kg) relative to the Cape buffalo (S. c. caffer). We monitored the movements of 7 breeding herds in W Regional Park (Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger) using global positioning system collars and activity data loggers. Habitat selection was analyzed at both large (interseasonal) and small (intraseasonal) scales in a context where resources are segregated spatially at some times of year. Both biotic (primary production and vegetation types) and abiotic (timing of rainfall and surface water) covariates, and the extent to which neighboring herds shared space, were considered. In the dry season buffalo herds ranged close (within 5.3 ± 2.0 km, mean ± SD) to segments of permanent rivers. At the onset of the monsoon all herds but 1 (which had year-round access to suitable resources) performed a large (35 ± 10 km) directional movement in response to a large-scale gradient of primary production. Spatiotemporal dynamics of forage and water resources thus jointly stimulated interseasonal directional movements and shaped large (335 ± 167 km2) annual home ranges. Furthermore, the establishment of home ranges in the wet season appears to be conditioned by a threshold (about 10%) in the availability of perennial grasses. Habitat-selection analysis at intraseasonal scale also underlines the key role played by perennial grasses for buffaloes. The spatial arrangements of home ranges of neighboring herds also suggest that interherd behavioral avoidance is a high-level constraint on foraging processes. The ability of the African buffalo to cope with contrasting environmental conditions throughout most sub-Saharan ecosystems highlights the high behavioral plasticity of this species.

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Cornélis, D., S. Benhamou, G. Janeau, N. Morellet, M. Ouedraogo, and M.-N. de Visscher. 2011. Spatiotemporal dynamics of forage and water resources shape space use of West African savanna buffaloes. Journal of Mammalogy 92(6):1287-1297.