Landscape heterogeneity, namely the variation of a landscape property across space and time, can influence the distribution of a species and its abundance. Quantifying landscape heterogeneity is important for the management of semi-natural areas through predicting species response to landscape changes, such as habitat fragmentation. In this paper, we tested whether the change in spatial heterogeneity of the vegetation cover due to farming expansion affected the distribution of the African elephant in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, northern Tanzania. Spatial heterogeneity (based on the normalized difference vegetation index) was characterized at multiple spatial scales using the wavelet transform and the intensity-dominant scale method. Elephant distribution was estimated from time-series aerial surveys using a kernel density function. The intensity, which relates to the contrast in vegetation cover, quantified the maximum variation in NDVI across multiple spatial scales, whereas the dominant scale, which represents the scale at which this maximum variation occurs, identified the dominant inter-patches distance, i.e. the size of dominant landscape features. We related the dominant scale of spatial heterogeneity to the probability of elephant occurrence in order to identify: 1) the scale that maximizes elephant occurrence, and 2) its change between 1988 and 2001. Neither the dominant scale and intensity of spatial heterogeneity, nor the probability of the elephant occurrence changed significantly between 1988 and 2001. The spatial scale maximizing elephant occurrence remained constant at 7000 to 8000 m during each wet season. Compared to the findings of a recent, similar study in Zimbabwe, our results suggest that the change in the dominant scale was relatively small in Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem and well within the critical threshold for elephant persistence. The method is a useful tool for monitoring ecosystems and their properties.
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