Predicted impact of barriers to migration on the Serengeti wildebeest population

Ricardo M. Holdo, John M. Fryxell, Anthony R.E. Sinclair, Andrew P. Dobson, Robert D. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


The Serengeti wildebeest migration is a rare and spectacular example of a once-common biological phenomenon. A proposed road project threatens to bisect the Serengeti ecosystem and its integrity. The precautionary principle dictates that we consider the possible consequences of a road completely disrupting the migration. We used an existing spatiallyexplicit simulation model of wildebeest movement and population dynamics to explore how placing a barrier to migration across the proposed route (thus creating two disjoint but mobile subpopulations) might affect the long-term size of the wildebeest population. Our simulation results suggest that a barrier to migration-even without causing habitat loss- could cause the wildebeest population to decline by about a third. The driver of this decline is the effect of habitat fragmentation (even without habitat loss) on the ability of wildebeest to effectively track temporal shifts in high-quality forage resources across the landscape. Given the important role of the wildebeest migration for a number of key ecological processes, these findings have potentially important ramifications for ecosystem biodiversity, structure, and function in the Serengeti.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16370
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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