Data from: The burning question: does fire affect habitat selection and forage preference of the black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis in East African savannahs?
Anderson, T. Michael et al. (2019), Data from: The burning question: does fire affect habitat selection and forage preference of the black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis in East African savannahs?, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5q39d8q
Endangered species conservation requires information on how management activities influence habitat quality. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornus) is critically endangered and restricted to savannas representing ~5% of its historical range. Fire is used extensively in savanna, but little is known about how rhinos respond to burning. Our aim was to understand rhino responses to fire by studying habitat selection and foraging at multiple scales. We used resource selection functions and GPS locations of 31 rhinos from 2014-2016 to study rhino habitat use in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Rhino selectivity was quantified by comparing forage consumption to plant species availability in randomly sampled vegetation plots; rhino diets were subsequently verified through DNA-metabarcoding analysis of fecal samples. Rhino habitat use was a unimodal function of fire history, with highly occupied sites having fire frequencies of < 0.6 fires yr-1 and maximum occupancy occurring at a fire frequency of 0.1 fires yr-1. Foraging stations had characteristic plant communities, with 17 species statistically associated with rhino foraging. Rhinos were associated with, and disproportionately consumed, woody plants, forbs and legumes all of which decreased in abundance with increasing fire frequency. In contrast to common management practices, multiple lines of evidence suggest that the current fire regime in Serengeti negatively influences rhino habitat use and foraging and that frequent fire limits rhino access to preferred forage. We conclude with a conceptual model to guide managers and conservationists in the use of fire under variable savanna conditions.
National Science Foundation, Award: NSF-BCS-1461728