The ability of elephants to remain in their seasonal habitat despite environmental change

Photo by Pixabay on

Dr. Rhea Burton-Roberts, a biologist and lecturer at Bangor University, found that elephants had extremely stable seasonal migratory patterns over years. In Kruger National Park, Rhea found that elephant family groups prefer to stay in regions that they know well, but a scarcity of food during very dry seasons might lead them to move their foraging to less known habitats. Her research was published in Scientific Reports.

Rhea’s Ph.D. research on animal movement ecology used 8 years of elephant geographic data collected from 13 elephant family groups in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, as part of a collaborative project involving researchers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Indian Institute of Sciences, the Ashoka Trust, and South African National Parks.

Rhea said that the data they got from the GPS collars on the elephants tracked their location every 30 minutes, providing a fascinating look into their migratory behavior throughout various seasons as food supply and environmental circumstances varied.

Elephants, according to Rhea’s research, have a strong preference for certain habitats and regions within the National Park’s total size of 20,000 sq. kms. Elephants have a seasonal diet, with a preference for grass during the wetter months and for woody vegetation during the drier months. The amount of precipitation, especially during the dry season, drove the most change in their seasonal migratory behavior.

The researchers said that if rainfall was more than normal heading into the dry season, the elephants chose to remain faithful to their home area, preserve their energy, and make the most of the prolonged quality and amount of vegetation.

Once the rain stopped during the transition from the wet to dry season, elephants began exploring new areas of their home range in search of food. It appears that Kruger’s elephant population is adapting its seasonal movement pattern to environmental circumstances so that it can satisfy its high energy and nutritional needs. An adult female requires a diet of around 150 kg per day.

Professor Rob Slotow (UKZN), a key collaborator and data source, said that as a result of global warming, rainfall patterns and temperatures in Africa’s savannas are becoming more unstable. Understanding how elephants cope with these changes is important for saving the species, especially as droughts become more often and food becomes scarce.

Changing migration patterns, however, may pose problems in locations where habitat is already fragmented, and human interference is high.

Elephants are an intriguing study subject because, despite their massive size and broad feeding preferences, they consistently use the same essential habitats, as noted by coauthor Graeme Shannon.


Rhea Burton-Roberts et. al. (2022). Seasonal range fidelity of a megaherbivore in response to environmental change, Scientific ReportsDOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-25334-8