Saturday 30 November
Predator-prey relationships in the African savannah
African savannah facts
- Complex predator-prey relationships maintain the delicate balance of the ever-changing African savannah ecosystem.
- The rolling grasslands of the African savannah are subject to a year-round warm climate that fluctuates between wet and dry seasons.
- The African savannah is home to the greatest diversity of hoofed mammals in the world.
Photos of predator-prey relationships in the African savannah:
Predator-prey relationships in the African savannah fact file
- What is the African savannah?
- Predators and prey in the African savannah
- African savannah threats and conservation
- Find out more
- African savannah news
- Real science: Team WILD
What is the African savannah?
The African savannah is a vast, sprawling grassland ecosystem that is characterised by scatterings of small hardy trees and shrubs that are sparsely dotted throughout the landscape. This impressive rolling grassland stretches across more than 25 different countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. Home to a rich array of species, the African savannah has what is known as a wet-dry tropical climate, enjoying warm temperatures year-round, but with distinct wet and dry seasons.
The pattern of small or widely distributed trees characteristic of the savannah ecosystem enables sufficient water and light to reach the ground, where vegetation can flourish. These plants form the basis of a complex food web, supporting a whole host of species from termites and tortoises to elands and elephants.
Predators and prey in the African savannah
The African savannah is home to a diverse community of species that interact, forming a complex and ever-changing ecosystem. Multiple food webs are made up of carnivores, herbivores, producers, scavengers and decomposers that keep the savannah ecosystem healthy and balanced.
With the world’s greatest hoofed mammal diversity, the African savannah plays host to a multitude of well-known and charismatic herbivores such as plains zebra, black rhinoceros, greater kudu and several subspecies of giraffe, two of which are at risk of extinction. Savannah species all fill a particular niche within their ecosystem. For example, the secretarybird feeds on insects, small mammals and snakes, while vultures and hyaenas scavenge for meat from large predator kills, and fork-tailed drongos feed on insects flushed from the grasses by fires.
Termites are important decomposers, breaking down dead plant and animal material to release much-needed nutrients into the ecosystem. The trampling of trees and grasses by elephants is also beneficial as it encourages the growth of other grasses that play an essential role in the diets of smaller herbivores.
All living things depend on each other for survival, with changes in the size of one species’ population having the potential to affect all of the other species that share the ecosystem.
African savannah threats and conservation
The African savannah is increasingly at risk from overgrazing. Often used as pastureland for domestic cattle, this rolling grassland is being transformed into desert as a result, as grasses consequently die and less food is available for other savannah wildlife. This desertification threatens more than just the herbivores; a reduction in grazing species such as impala, blue wildebeest, eland, kudu and many more affects the entire balance of the ecosystem.
Many African savannah species are at risk from habitat loss as more and more land is cleared to make way for agricultural crops. Elephants, hunted for their tusks, and rhinoceroses for their horns, are extremely vulnerable to population decline driven by the markets for traditional medicine, jewellery and decorated trinkets. Other savannah species, for example giraffe and hirola, are also at risk from poaching, most often for their meat or horns. An additional threat is presented from frequent and often uncontrollable man-made fires that burn swiftly across the African savannah, destroying huge areas at a time.
Find out more
Find out more about conservation of the African savannah and its species:
- Zoological Society of London - Tanzania cheetah conservation programme
- Giraffe Conservation Foundation
- Save the Rhino
- Elephants for Africa Research
- WWF Ecoregion - East African Acacia Savannahs
- The Nature Conservancy - Africa
- Born Free Foundation - Savannah Grasslands
African savannah news
Follow our blog to keep up-to-date with the latest African savannah news:
Real science: Team WILD
Explore the real science behind Team WILD’s mission to survey predator-prey relationships in the African savannah.
Why do Root and Flora, our Team WILD science superheroes, need help surveying predator-prey relationships in African savannah?
All living things depend on each other for survival, and the relationship that exists between predators and their prey is a prime example of just how closely linked species are. Changes in the population size of one species can drastically affect that of another. This, in turn, has the potential to affect all other species within a particular ecosystem, either positively or negatively, shifting the delicate balance of species.
The role that predators play in their environment actually helps to create and maintain greater diversity within an ecosystem, through regulating the abundance and distribution of prey species, providing vital food sources for scavengers, and removing sick, injured and weak individuals from prey populations.
If predator numbers suddenly fall, populations of prey species may no longer be kept in check, leading to a sudden, rapid increase in their numbers. On the African savannah, these prey species will more often than not be large herbivores, which could potentially destroy vast swards of the landscape’s vegetation if their numbers become too great.
Alternatively, should the number of predators roaming an ecosystem suddenly increase, this could lead to a dramatic decline in prey numbers, as more prey needs to be eaten to support the growing predator population. As prey is being removed from the environment at a faster rate than the species can reproduce to replace individuals, the population could ultimately crash.
Why do scientists study predator-prey dynamics?
Scientists study the intricate relationships between predators and their prey to help them better understand what might cause populations of different species to change over time, and how this might happen. This branch of science is known as ‘population dynamics’. Scientists also carry out tasks such as estimating the population size of predators and their prey as part of important conservation work. An accurate estimate of the population sizes of various species within an ecosystem is a vital tool for scientists in planning effective conservation and management of endangered species and habitats.
Help Team WILD survey predators and prey in the African savannah
Play the Team WILD game
Teaching resources for 7-11 year olds:
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