Scratching the surface: Exploring target sites for gorilla zoogeomorphology in Equatorial Africa

Authors: Andrea E. Pinon*, Texas State University - San Marcos, David R. Butler, Texas State University
Topics: Geomorphology, Biogeography, Africa
Keywords: gorilla, zoogeomorphology, geomorphology, primate, Africa
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:40 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Gorillas are among the most charismatic and well- researched species on the planet, yet their role as zoogeomorphic agents has gone largely overlooked. Zoogeomorphology is the study of animals as geomorphic agents, that is, their role in sculpting, modifying, and maintaining the earth’s physical surface. The complexity of gorilla social systems, behavioral ecology, and phylogeny continues to dominate research across multiple disciplines. Primate studies, although they do not explicitly define it as so, document various scales of zoogeomorphic activity of gorillas. However, data remains secondary to principal research goals. Studies emphasizing the geomorphic implications of gorillas on the landscape is necessary to refine our understanding of their function as bio-modifiers. Without this knowledge, vital pieces of information could be excluded in future conservation planning. This study represents the first of its kind, to the author's knowledge, to examine existing data through the lens of zoogeomorphology. Examples, derived from the literature, are presented of how gorillas function as zoogeomorphic agents by (1) soil-scratching; (2) excavating insect mounds; (3) foot and knuckle prints resulting from ranging; (4) bare/semi-bare soil bottom terrestrial nest site building; and (5) holes and caves created from sub-surface foraging, geophagy, and tool use. In addition, potential gorilla zoogeomorphic hotspots in Equatorial Africa are identified using geographic information systems (GIS) overlay analysis.

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