Erin Buchholtz and Lauren Redmore were awarded the ABS Collaborative Multidisciplinary Research Award for their proposed research project, “Sharing the Savanna: Spatio-temporal patterns of hardwood resource utilization by humans and elephants in northern Botswana”. Human-elephant conflict is a central challenge to conservation with real and lasting consequences to elephants and human lives and livelihoods. The Okavango Panhandle in northern Botswana, where this research will take place, exemplifies the challenges of coexistence in social-ecological systems as elephants live amongst human settlements. Broad-scale analyses in the past have characterized landscape-scale elephant movement patterns, and socio-economic surveys and other qualitative studies have captured the challenges for people who live with elephants, but few have been able to capture the interconnected patterns of elephant and human resource-use.
Buchholtz and Redmore will employ interdisciplinary methods and analyses from natural and social sciences. Their research will focus on hardwood trees as a way to study the demands for natural resources in this social-ecological system. Elephants rely on hardwood trees for browse during the dry season, pulling down trees and branches which are then used by people for firewood. The research hypothesis is that spatial and/or temporal niche partitioning allows humans and elephants to coexist and minimize negative interactions (conflict) during utilization of hardwood resources. Combining both human and elephant movements in a single study to characterize the interactions between the two species is novel, exemplifying the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach which the Applied Biodiversity Science program seeks to support with this award. Understanding these interactions will not only provide insight into the interspecific use of resources in the landscape, but may also provide key information for developing conflict-mitigation strategies.
With the funding from the award and the Fulbright US Student Program, Buchholtz and Redmore will carry out this project in Botswana in January 2018 as well as present their work at the international Pathways Africa Conference in Namibia. They represent the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Program and the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Sciences, respectively, and are also both Student Research Fellows with the Ecoexist Project (www.ecoexistproject.org).