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Ecological consequences of large herbivore exclusion in an African savanna: 12 years of data from the UHURU experiment

Citation

Alston, Jesse et al. (2021), Ecological consequences of large herbivore exclusion in an African savanna: 12 years of data from the UHURU experiment, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1g1jwstxw

Abstract

Diverse communities of large mammalian herbivores (LMH), once widespread, are now rare. LMH exert strong direct and indirect effects on community structure and ecosystem functions, and measuring these effects is important for testing ecological theory and for understanding past, current, and future environmental change. This in turn requires long-term experimental manipulations, owing to the slow and often nonlinear responses of populations and assemblages to LMH removal. Moreover, the effects of particular species or body-size classes within diverse LMH guilds are difficult to pinpoint, and the magnitude and even direction of these effects often depends on environmental context. Since 2008, we have maintained the Ungulate Herbivory Under Rainfall Uncertainty (UHURU) experiment, a series of size-selective LMH exclosures replicated across a rainfall/productivity gradient in a semi-arid Kenyan savanna. The goals of the UHURU experiment are to measure the effects of removing successively smaller size classes of LMH (mimicking the process of size-biased extirpation) and to establish how these effects are shaped by spatial and temporal variation in rainfall. The UHURU experiment comprises three LMH-exclusion treatments and an unfenced control, applied to 9 randomized blocks of contiguous 1-ha plots (n = 36). The fenced treatments are: “MEGA” (exclusion of megaherbivores, elephant and giraffe); “MESO” (exclusion of herbivores ≥40 kg); and “TOTAL” (exclusion of herbivores ≥5 kg). Each block is replicated three times at three sites across the 20-km rainfall gradient, which has fluctuated over the course of the experiment. The first five years of data were published previously (Ecological Archives E095-064) and have been used in numerous studies. Since that publication, we have (a) continued to collect data following the original protocols, (b) improved the taxonomic resolution and accuracy of plant and small-mammal identifications, and (c) begun collecting several new data sets. Here, we present updated and extended raw data from the first 12 years of the UHURU experiment (2008–2019). Data include daily rainfall data throughout the experiment; annual surveys of understory plant communities; annual censuses of woody-plant communities; annual measurements of individually tagged woody plants; monthly monitoring of flowering and fruiting phenology; every-other-month small-mammal mark-recapture data; and quarterly large-mammal dung surveys.

Methods

Extensive metadata can be found in the README file and Ecology data paper.

Usage Notes

Extensive metadata can be found in the README file and Ecology data paper.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-0709880

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1930820

National Science Foundation, Award: OISE-0852961

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1355122

National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1656527

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1547679

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1930763

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-2018405