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Title: Wild herbivores and cattle have differing effects on postfire herbaceous vegetation recovery in an A frican savanna

Fire and herbivory have profound effects on vegetation in savanna ecosystems, but little is known about how different herbivore groups influence vegetation dynamics after fire. We assessed the separate and combined effects of herbivory by cattle and wild meso‐ and megaherbivores on postfire herbaceous vegetation cover, species richness, and species turnover in a savanna ecosystem in central Kenya. We measured these vegetation attributes for five sampling periods (from 2013 to 2017) in prescribed burns and unburned areas located within a series of replicated long‐term herbivore exclosures that allow six different combinations of cattle and wild meso‐ and megaherbivores (elephants and giraffes). Vegetation cover (grasses, mainly) and species richness were initially reduced by burning but recovered by 15–27 months after fire, suggesting strong resilience to infrequent fire. However, the rates of recovery differed in plots accessible by different wild and domestic herbivore guilds. Wildlife (but not cattle) delayed postfire recovery of grasses, and the absence of wildlife (with or without cattle) delayed recovery of forbs. Herbivory by only cattle increased grass species richness in burned relative to unburned areas. Herbivory by cattle (with or without wildlife), however, reduced forb species richness in burned relative to unburned areas. Herbivory by wild ungulates (but not cattle) increased herbaceous species turnover in burned relative to unburned areas. Megaherbivores had negligible modifying effects on these results. This study demonstrates that savanna ecosystems are remarkably resilient to infrequent fires, but postfire grazing by cattle and wild mesoherbivores exerts different effects on recovery trajectories of herbaceous vegetation.

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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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Journal Name:
Ecological Applications
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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