Elephant Aggression: Impact of Altered Food Supply

Elephants are social animals that form female-bonded groups with complex dynamics. However, Elephant Aggression and interactions can be influenced by the availability and distribution of food resources, which are often altered by human activities. A new study by scientists from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) reveals how elephant herds compete more for food in anthropogenically created grasslands than in forests, even if the former has an abundance of food.

How food distribution affects elephant aggression

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, is based on data from the long-term Kabini Elephant Project, which tracks individual elephants and their behaviour in Kabini Grassland and its neighbouring forest in Karnataka. The researchers found that within-clan hostile interactions (agonism) and between-clan agonistic encounters were more frequent and intense in the grasslands than in the forests. They also found that grass abundance, grass dispersion and group size of the elephants affected the rate and distribution of agonism.

The researchers suggest that the increased competition in the grasslands is due to the clumped and monopolisable nature of the food resource, which creates a high-risk, high-reward situation for the elephants. In contrast, the forests offer a low-quality, dispersed and abundant food resource, which reduces the need for conflict.

How aggression affects their social lives

The study partly supports the predictions of a socio-ecological model, the ecological model of female social relationships (EMFSR), which states that food distribution primarily determines competition between and within groups. The study shows how human activities can have ecological effects and impact the social lives of animals. The authors note that increasing resource availability can have opposite effects than intended, and may lead to more stress and aggression among elephants. They also point out that elephant aggression can have negative consequences for their conservation, as it may increase their antagonism towards humans and reduce their breeding success.

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