Print version ISSN 0075-6458
CHIRIMA, George J.; OWEN-SMITH, Norman and ERASMUS, Barend F.N.. Changing distributions of larger ungulates in the Kruger National Park from ecological aerial survey data. Koedoe [online]. 2012, vol.54, n.1, pp. 24-35. ISSN 0075-6458.
Documenting current species distribution patterns and their association with habitat types is important as a basis for assessing future range shifts in response to climate change or other influences. We used the adaptive local convex hull (á-LoCoH) method to map distribution ranges of 12 ungulate species within the Kruger National Park (KNP) based on locations recorded during aerial surveys (1980-1993). We used log-linear models to identify changes in regional distribution patterns and chi-square tests to determine shifts in habitat occupation over this period. We compared observed patterns with earlier, more subjectively derived distribution maps for these species. Zebra, wildebeest and giraffe distributions shifted towards the far northern section of the KNP, whilst buffalo and kudu showed proportional declines in the north. Sable antelope distribution contracted most in the north, whilst tsessebe, eland and roan antelope distributions showed no shifts. Warthog and waterbuck contracted in the central and northern regions, respectively. The distribution of impala did not change. Compared with earlier distributions, impala, zebra, buffalo, warthog and waterbuck had become less strongly concentrated along rivers. Wildebeest, zebra, sable antelope and tsessebe had become less prevalent in localities west of the central region. Concerning habitat occupation, the majority of grazers showed a concentration on basaltic substrates, whilst sable antelope favoured mopane-dominated woodland and sour bushveld on granite. Buffalo showed no strong preference for any habitats and waterbuck were concentrated along rivers. Although widespread, impala were absent from sections of mopane shrubveld and sandveld. Kudu and giraffe were widespread through most habitats, but with a lesser prevalence in northern mopane-dominated habitats. Documented distribution shifts appeared to be related to the completion of the western boundary fence and widened provision of surface water within the park. CONSERVATION IMPLICATIONS: The objectively recorded distribution patterns provide a foundation for assessing future changes in distribution that may take place in response to climatic shifts or other influences.