Futuristic climate change scenario predicts a shrinking habitat for the African elephant (Loxodonta africana): evidence from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The earth is gradually warming from greenhouse gases (GHG) and will likely exceed the 2 °C threshold envisioned by 2050. Species range shifts and extinction are imminent from the temperature increase, especially in human-dominated landscapes. Several regions are projected to become less habitable as a result of heat stress, reduced water availability, and other secondary effects (e.g., diseases). As such, the future of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) remains uncertain when pressure exists from habitat loss, poaching, and temperature anomalies. In this study, we tested whether there would be any change in the 2050 potential distribution of the African elephant in the Hwange National park, Zimbabwe. We used Stochastic Gradient Boosting (SGB) with elephant presence as response and distance from the park boundary, temperature seasonality, precipitation of the wettest month, land cover, and annual precipitation as predictor variables. Results showed that predicted elephant habitat will likely shrink by 40% in 2050 from the potential present range of 146.76 km2. Our model on the current potential habitat of elephants was successful (AUC = 0.76) as well as for the projected habitat using RCP 8.5 data (AUC = 0.87). Our findings are amongst the first to show the likely effect of projected climate on the potential distribution of elephants in a savannah ecosystem. Our results are suggest that the current potential habitat of the elephant is sensitive to anthropogenic interferences, but a changing climate will influence elephant distribution in the future.
KeywordsGlobal change Climate change Isothermality Hwange National Park
Data used in this study were collected during surveys funded by the “Great Elephant Census, a Paul G. Allen Project,” as part of a national survey of the African elephant in Zimbabwe. The surveys were conducted in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
KM and THM conceptualized the study. KM and HN helped with data processing and modeling. KM, HN, and PTK helped in the writing of the manuscript.
The authors received no specific funding for this research.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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