Foraging impacts of Asian megafauna on tropical rain forest structure and biodiversity Biotropica


John Terborgh, Lisa C. Davenport, Lisa Ong, Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz

Date Published



Megaherbivores are known to influence the structure, composition, and diversity of vegetation. In Central Africa, forest elephants act as ecological filters by breaking tree saplings and stripping them of foliage. Much less is known about impacts of megafauna on Southeast Asian rain forests. Here, we ask whether herbivory by Asian megafauna has impacts analogous to those of African forest elephants. To answer this, we studied forest (1) structure, (2) composition, (3) diversity, and (4) tree scars in Belum and Krau, two protected areas of Peninsular Malaysia, and compared the results with those obtained in African forests. Elephants are abundant in Belum but have been absent in Krau since 1993. We found that stem density and diversity, especially of tree saplings, were higher in Krau than in Belum. Palms and other monocots were also more abundant in Krau. In Belum, however, small monocots (<1 m tall) were very abundant but larger ones (>1 m tall) were virtually absent, suggesting size-selective removal. The frequency of stem-break scars was equal at Belum and Krau but less than in Central Africa and greater than in the Peruvian Amazon where tapirs are the only megafauna. Pigs and tapirs could also contribute to the high frequency of tree scars recorded in Malaysian forests. Forest-dwelling elephants in Asia seem to have a reduced impact on tree saplings compared to African forest elephants, but a very strong impact on monocots.