A few months ago, we informed our regular readership of the important role African savannah elephant play in the maintenance of grasslands. Within the grassland ecosystem, elephant are a keystone species. That means there presence in it is essential to the ecosystem’s maintenance.
Elephant, as the robust digesters that they are, eat budding shrubs as they graze and, in so doing, they ensure that grasslands do not become forested areas. Their role continues as fertilisers that are considered integral in the maintenance of a grassland’s soil health.
We’ve also written an article on the plight and importance of Western Africa’s African Forest Elephant. The two subspecies were recently reclassified in a move that was considered essential if conservation of them was to be better tailored to their specific characteristics. The reclassified status, and the distinctions between both subspecies, was thought to be a move toward allowing for better, more tailored protective policies to be enacted.
The African forest elephant’s role in the maintenance of African rainforests
The forest elephant, as we have detailed before, is shorter than its savannah counterpart. It also has a smaller pair of ears, tends to have straighter tusks and, interestingly, is so distinctly different to the African savannah elephant it even has a different gestation period.
Furthermore, and as the name suggests, the forest elephant lives in densely wooded area and, curiously, it is also considered keystone to this vastly different habitat. The forest elephant exists, to a far greater degree, on a diet of dropped fruit. As it eats of these dropped fruit, and as it drops its own excrement as it moves, it fertilises and plants anew in the forest.
This is one of the reasons that the African forest elephant is considered the gardener of the forest. However, it has recently been discovered that forest elephant’s play an even greater role in ensuring that West Africa’s rainforests develop in a healthy manner.
The Congo is home to the world’s second-biggest rainforest and to the majority of the world’s extant wild forest elephant. This rainforest, you don’t need us to tell you, is important in carbon sequestration. It is also a habitat that has developed alongside elephant activity within it.
Today, it is thought that the presence of elephant in the rainforests of the Congo is part of the reason it exists as it does today. We have long known that a forest develops and renews itself in a cyclical manner. Fast-growing trees tend to develop quickly and only after their death can the slower-growing trees move in for the capture of the previously controlled nutrients.
These fast-growers tend to have a low carbon density. They are less effective as living stores of the carbon that, in the atmosphere, is contributing to the heating of our planet. The slower-growers are high carbon density stores and, in the Congo rainforest, the forest elephant has been found as a key contributor toward the forest’s being a home to large numbers of the high carbon density trees.
The African forest elephant has recently been found to be more attracted to the low carbon density trees. They strip them back within the forest, giving a better edge to the higher stores.
As if we needed another reason to conserve these incredible creatures.