Elephants get first dibs at the African savannah salad bar, which may force rhinos to dine on lower quality food and a more limited diet.
When elephants abound in an ecosystem, a South African study found that black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) tend to eat more grass than in nearby areas with fewer elephants. Grass contains more fiber per the amount of energy it contains, and thus provides rhinos with less nutrition per pound than other floral food sources.
However, when African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are absent, an analysis of rhino poop found evidence that the horn-headed herbivores devour a wider variety of vegetation, including leaves from shrubs, succulent plants and liana vines.
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"Despite extensive evidence of the effects of elephant on food resources in the Addo Elephant National Park (where the study was conducted) and elsewhere few studies have investigated the consequences of this for other large herbivores," wrote the authors in the journal PLOS ONE. "Surprisingly, where this information exists, the emphasis has been on demonstrating that elephant facilitate herbivore access to habitat and increase the availability and quality of food. This is despite clear evidence that elephants limit herbivore abundances across ecosystems through their ability to monopolize resources."