Wild herbivore grazing enhances insect diversity over livestock grazing in an African grassland system
CITATION: Pryke, J. S., Roets, F. & Samways, M. J. 2016. Wild herbivore grazing enhances insect diversity over livestock grazing in an African grassland system. PLoS ONE, 11(10):e0164198, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164198
The original publication is available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone
Southern Africa’s grassland biodiversity is threatened by habitat transformation such as commercial forestry. Ecological networks (ENs) have been investigated to alleviate the pressure of habitat transformation on local biodiversity. ENs are large scale webs of corridors and patches of natural vegetation criss-crossing production landscapes that can simulate conditions in protected areas (PAs). Many ENs have lost many native large mammal species, which have been replaced by domestic livestock to retain natural grazing dynamics, which could have an impact on the long-term value of ENs for insects. Here we compared dung beetle, butterfly and grasshopper diversity in ENs across a landscape mosaic of timber plantations, where 1) wild megaherbivores were maintained, 2) in ENs where these herbivores were replaced by livestock and, 3) in a nearby World Heritage PA which retained its natural complement of megaherbivores. Sites in the PA far from any plantation were similar in composition to those in the wild grazed EN. Presence of the wild grazers improved the alpha- and beta-diversity of all focal insect taxa when compared to domestic grazing. Furthermore, species composition shows significant differences between the two grazing systems indicating that an assemblage of native large mammals facilitates insect diversity conservation. We support the maintenance or introduction of large native mammals in ENs or similar conservation areas in production landscapes to simulate the ecological conditions and natural heterogeneity in nearby PAs.