Zoological Studies

Vol. 61, 2022

(update: 2022.8.12)

Utilisation of Woody Plants by the Cape Porcupine in Mesic Savannas in South Africa

Unathi Masiobi Kraai1, Zivanai Tsvuura1,*, Tlou Julius Tjelele3, Ntuthuko Raphael Mkhize2,3, and Manqhai Kraai1

1Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209, South Africa. *Correspondence: E-mail: Tsvuuraz@ukzn.ac.za (Tsvuura).
E-mail: unathi.kraai@yahoo.com (UM Kraai); Kraai@ukzn.ac.za (M Kraai)
2School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209, South Africa. E-mail: JTjelele@arc.agric.za (Tjelele); MkhizeN@arc.agric.za (Mkhize)
3Agricultural Research Council, Animal Production, Range and Forage Sciences, Private Bag X 02, Irene, 0062, South Africa

Received 15 January 2022 / Accepted 13 May 2022
Communicated by Jian-Nan Liu

Herbivory plays a fundamental role in determining the structure of savannas. The impacts of small and medium-sized mammalian herbivores on trees in savannas remain poorly understood because most research attention focuses on large herbivores such as elephants whose destructive effects on trees can be pervasive at landscape scales. On the other hand, feeding activities of generalist herbivores such as Cape porcupines on woody plants can lead to tree mortality. This study investigated the utilisation of woody plants by the Cape porcupine in three mesic savanna sites in South Africa. We determined the woody plant diet of the porcupine for the early and late dry seasons at Roodeplaat Farm in Gauteng Province, and at Goss Game Farm and Bisley Valley Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal Province. Thirty and twenty randomly located quadrats (30 m 30 m) were laid at Roodeplaat and Goss, respectively, while 10 smaller quadrats (10 m 10 m) were laid at Bisley. We measured stem diameter and the length and width of bark scars made by porcupines on stems of woody plants. We collected ten dung samples from each study site in the wet and dry seasons for quantification of woody material in porcupine diet. Porcupine foraging behaviour impacted different tree species at each site: Vachellia robusta at Roodeplaat, Spirostachys africana at Goss and Vachellia nilotica at Bisley. Each of these trees was dominant at each site. More scarring and tree mortality were recorded at Bisley with almost 70% tree sapling mortality occurring on trees that porcupine fed on. The size of bark scars was greater at Goss (P < 0.01) than at Roodeplaat and Bisley, which were similar. The area of bark damage on S. africana trees differed significantly by stem diameter size class (P = 0.007) and was greater for small stems (size class < 7.1 cm) than the larger stems (size classes 7.1–14 cm and 14.1–21). For all the study sites, dung samples revealed that woody material contributed over 80% of the porcupine diet during the dry season, but was lower at 35% during the wet season for Roodeplaat, although it was consistently high for Bisley at 79%. Porcupine foraging activities substantially contributed to tree mortality at each site. We posit that porcupine induced mortality on dominant tree species at each site may contribute to structural heterogeneity in woody plant vegetation in mesic savannas.

Key words: Bark damage, Dry season diet, Herbivory, Mesic savanna, Ring-barking.

Citation: Kraai UM, Tsvuura Z, Tjelele TJ, Mkhize NR, Kraai M. 2022. Utilisation of woody plants by the Cape porcupine in mesic savannas in South Africa. Zool Stud 61:40. doi:10.6620/ZS.2022.61-40.

Supplementary materials: Table S1