From the Purdue News Service:
Elephant trails may lead the way to better conservation approaches.
Think of elephants as engineers of the forests,” said Melissa J. Remis, professor and head of anthropology at Purdue University, who is best known for her work in ecology and behavior of western gorillas and their ecosystems. “Elephants shape the landscape in many ways that benefit humans. We’re talking thousands of miles of trails. If we think about the loss of elephants over time, then we will see the forest structure change and human activities also would shift.” These massive creatures trample thick vegetation through dense forests in the Central African Republic’s Congo Basin as they move from the forests’ fruit trees to more open water sources where they hydrate, bathe, and socialize. African forest elephants, highly sociable animals, travel in small family groups to meet others at these muddy water sources, which are full of rich minerals that they can’t find in the forests. By clearing routes to these destinations, elephants have created a complex network of roads that residents, tourists, scientists, and loggers still use today. If elephant populations decline, the forest grows over the trails. Remis and Carolyn A. Jost Robinson, a former Purdue doctoral student and current visiting scholar, recently evaluated how biological anthropology plays a role in conservation. Their findings are published online in American Anthropologist.
The work was funded by the Clifford B. Kinley Trust and College of Liberal Arts.”