Around the Watering Hole: Researchers investigate how herbivore activity around water affects plant communities

by Harrison Tasoff, UC Santa Barbara
October 18, 2021

Plants need water to grow. So if there’s water, shouldn’t there be more plants? New research out of UC Santa Barbara and Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, Kenya shows it’s a lot more complicated than that.

“You might think that water sources in arid locations have more plants,” said lead author Georgia Titcomb, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara. “We found that, in really arid locations, herbivores come for water, and trample and eat the plants, so there is a lot more bare ground or very well adapted grazing lawn grasses.” But that’s not the case everywhere on the savanna.

The researchers gathered data on watering hole communities over the course of two years to investigate how herbivore activity affects vegetation on the savannas of central Kenya. They determined that the impacts depend a lot on environmental conditions. Their study appears as a cover story in the journal Ecological Applications.

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Read the Ecological Applications paper: