Expedition no. 41: Antelope food niche Project Gorongosa National Park: 2014- 2016

Plant specimens as well as fecal samples from various antelope species were collected to study which plant species are eaten and how these food sources may affect competition between antelope species.

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In Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, civil war ravaged wildlife populations between 1977-1994. They were hunted by soldiers and civilians alike for meat and money; ivory from elephants, for example, was traded for weapons. Large mammals took a particularly hard hit. Predators like hyenas, wild dogs, leopards and jackals disappeared completely, and lions were reduced to fewer than 30 animals. Herbivores suffered, too -- elephants dropped from 2500 to 200 and hippos from 3500 to 300. By the mid-1990s, though the habitats remained largely intact, it was empty of wildlife.

Since the early 2000s, a partnership between the Mozambican government and the U.S.-based Gregory C. Carr Foundation has been working to change that. The Gorongosa Restoration Project is one of the most ambitious restoration efforts ever undertaken. By improving anti-poaching enforcement and reintroducing species such as zebra and buffalo, park managers have managed to increase wildlife populations dramatically. Now, in fact, the biomass of large herbivores such as elephants and antelope is almost the same as it was before the war. But, they haven't returned in the same proportions -- while species such as buffalo are still only at a fraction of their former numbers, one antelope, the waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), is doing particularly well. In fact, they're almost ten times more abundant than they were before the war -- while there were only 3,500 of then fifty years ago, there are now more than 34,000.
For more information see Gorongosa.org.

Jen Guyton, a graduate student at Princeton University, is trying to understand why waterbuck are so successful, and what that change means for the other animals and for the plants in this ecosystem. Her records for Flora of Mozambique are part of this work; in conjunction with Princeton faculty member Robert Pringle and post-doc Tyler Kartzinel, Jen is working to resolve the dietary ecology of Gorongosa's waterbuck. In order to do this, she has collected almost 300 fecal samples from waterbuck and other species in Gorongosa's ungulate community, such as buffalo, reedbuck, and impala. These samples will undergo DNA metabarcoding to determine which plant species were eaten. However, those DNA fragments must be compared to a DNA library for plants, which Jen is building with the help of Bart Wursten. Jen's plant collection is currently approaching 1400 specimens, and is growing each month. This collection is being barcoded and will soon be uploaded to the Barcode of Life Database, where it can be used as a genetic reference collection for her waterbuck dietary ecology study and for future studies in this and similar systems. Simultaneously, these records are being uploaded here, to Flora of Mozambique.
For more information see jenguyton.com.

Copyright: Mark Hyde, Bart Wursten, Petra Ballings and Meg Coates Palgrave, 2014-24

Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. (2024). Flora of Malawi: Expedition no. 41: Antelope food niche Project Gorongosa National Park.
https://www.malawiflora.com/speciesdata/outing-display.php?outing_id=41, retrieved 25 May 2024

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