Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Elephants’ footprints leave behind tiny oases for aquatic life

31 August 2016

Christer Fredriksson/Lonely Planet/Getty
By Karl Gruber

That’s one small step for an elephant, but a giant leap for the survival of tiny aquatic animals. In the swamp forests of Kibale National Park, Uganda, every step elephants take can give rise to a footprint-shaped mini-pond, holding up to 200 litres of water and dozens of invertebrate species.

“I was surprised to find out that these footprints were water-filled all year round, and that they harboured such a high diversity,” says Wolfram Remmers at the University of Koblenz in Germany. Surveying 30 such prints over a three-day period in 2014, Remmers and his colleagues found over 60 species, including beetles, spiders and worms – plus tadpoles.
Many smaller species may live there, too – the team’s sampling method meant they only caught things bigger than 2 millimetres.

The footprints probably play an important role in allowing these small life forms to spread, as they form a network of connected ponds.

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