29 September, 2018 - 08:00 (Research Matters)
Long before humans arrived on this planet, elephants have been walking on Earth. Often referred to as the ‘keystone’ species by scientists, these gentle giants play a significant role in maintaining the ecological balance of their habitat.
As elephants forage through the jungle, they feed on a variety of plants and disperse their seeds through their dung to distances as far as 60 kms. According to a recent study, out of the three major elephant species, the African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are the most effective seed dispersers. They play a crucial role in maintaining the carbon secluded tropical forests of the equatorial West and Central Africa. Another study shows that the plant Balanites Wilson, commonly known as desert dates or soap berry, found mostly in Central Africa and Middle Eastern countries, depends entirely on African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) for their seed dispersal.
Elephant dung acts as a vital food source for other animal species sharing the same habitat. As only half of an elephant’s diet is actually digested in its body, its dung carries high nutrients, intact seeds and plant fibres. Many animal species like baboons, meerkats, honey badgers, mongooses and dung beetles feed on the dung. This food source is of special relevance to dung beetles since the rolled dung balls is used as food and in their reproductive cycles. The dung also provides the soil with essential nutrients and acts as a fertilizer.
In addition, these giants alter landscapes of their habitats, creating gaps in the dense forests by pushing over trees and stomping around. Their actions transform dense woodlands into open grasslands. Once elephants migrate to other places, the landscape they inhabited transforms into shrubs and bushes and eventually into dense woodlands. In the dry seasons, the survival of numerous animal species sharing their habitats with elephants, depends on their ability to dug water holes using their trunks.
As majestic and gentle the elephants may seem, it is commendable how they play their part in helping the ecosystem with utmost sincerity and dedication.