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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  2. African savannas are the last stronghold of diverse large-mammal communities, and a major focus of savanna ecology is to understand how these animals affect the relative abundance of trees and grasses. However, savannas support diverse plant life-forms, and human-induced changes in large-herbivore assemblages—declining wildlife populations and their displacement by livestock—may cause unexpected shifts in plant community composition. We investigated how herbivory affects the prevalence of lianas (woody vines) and their impact on trees in an East African savanna. Although scarce (<2% of tree canopy area) and defended by toxic latex, the dominant liana,Cynanchum viminale(Apocynaceae), was eaten by 15 wild large-herbivore species and was consumed in bulk by native browsers during experimental cafeteria trials. In contrast, domesticated ungulates rarely ate lianas. When we experimentally excluded all large herbivores for periods of 8 to 17 y (simulating extirpation), liana abundance increased dramatically, with up to 75% of trees infested. Piecewise exclusion of different-sized herbivores revealed functional complementarity among size classes in suppressing lianas. Liana infestation reduced tree growth and reproduction, but herbivores quickly cleared lianas from trees after the removal of 18-y-old exclosure fences (simulating rewilding). A simple model of liana contagion showed that, without herbivores, the long-term equilibrium could be eithermore »endemic (liana–tree coexistence) or an all-liana alternative stable state. We conclude that ongoing declines of wild large-herbivore populations will disrupt the structure and functioning of many African savannas in ways that have received little attention and that may not be mitigated by replacing wildlife with livestock.

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  3. Michener, William K. (Ed.)
    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);more »“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. There are no copyright restrictions; notification of when and how data are used is appreciated and users of UHURU data should cite this data paper when using the data.« less