Asiatic wild asses, Equus hemionus, were driven to extinction in Israel in the early 20th century. In 1983, a herd of these animals was re-introduced to the wild in Makhtesh Ramon, a large erosion cirque in the central Negev desert, Israel. The population has grown steadily ever since and now numbers some 100 animals. In order to determine whether the wild asses are having a significant impact on the vegetation, we have monitored the plant communities in Makhtesh Ramon since 1992, using McAuliffe's log-series survey method. Our study involves 11 pairs of plots along the length of the altitudinal gradient in Makhtesh Ramon. The altitudinal gradient results in a rainfall gradient from an average of 95 mm rain per year to an average of about 40 mm per year. Each pair of plots consists of: (1) an unfenced plot, and (2) a fenced plot that excludes wild asses but not the other large mammalian herbivore, the dorcas gazelle Gazella dorcas. The wild asses have not had a significant impact on vegetation cover, species richness, diversity or dominance. Three plant species showed significant increases in percentage cover in fenced plots, while one species showed a significant increase in percentage cover in unfenced plots. Furthermore, eight plant species invaded fenced plots, three species invaded unfenced plots and one species disappeared from unfenced plots during the study. Using Detrended Correspondence Analysis, we found that the major differences among plots are due to position along the altitudinal gradient. The Detrended Correspondence Analyses indicated that the wild asses have had no significant effect on vegetation community structure.
- Asian wild ass
- Multivariate analysis