This study compared elephant use of woody vegetation on termite mounds with surrounding woodlands in western Zimbabwe. Twelve sites consisting of paired plots on termite mounds and in woodlands were selected. At each site, soil and vegetation samples (leaf and stem) were collected for chemical analysis. Both soil and plant samples were analyzed for calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus, and plant samples were also analyzed for crude protein concentration. Two indices of elephant feeding damage were computed: the median number of stems and branches removed per plant, and the mass of stems and branches removed by elephants per unit area. Termite mound soils had higher concentrations of all elements tested than soils from woodlands, and termite mounds differed from woodland plots in terms of plant species composition. Trees growing on termite mounds had higher concentrations of all nutrients except sodium and crude protein, and were subjected to more intense feeding by elephants than trees from the surrounding vegetation matrix. Termite mounds may play an important role in determining food availability and spatial feeding patterns by elephants and other herbivores.
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Vol. 36 • No. 2