Tree of Life

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Acacia trees and bushes of several types dominate the East African grasslands. Although they have sharp and painful thorns, many animals feed on them - small antelopes such as dik-diks and Thomson's gazelles eats shoots, larger ones such as impalas browse on bushes, and elephants and giraffes strip full-sized trees.

As well as food, acacias provide look-out posts, larders, sunshades, umbrellas, scratching posts and homes. Leopards sit high in the branches to spot their prey, and after a kill lodge the carcass in a fork between branches, out of the reach of marauding hyenas. Lions rest beneath the leaf canopy in the heat of the day and tiger snakes search among the branches for weaver-bird nests and a feast of chicks.

The silk cocoons of bagworm moths hang from branches. During mating, the female moth is inside the cocoon but the male stays outside, where he risks attack from ants living in tiny galls at the base of thorns. The ants guard the tree against leaf-eating insects, but not from invaders such as vervet monkeys, which pluck the curly seed pods and eat seeds.

Mature seeds eaten by animals such as impalas and elephants are softened by the animals' digestive juices - without this, they would not germinate. Dung beetles bury the seeds when they scavenge droppings. In this way, a new acacia comes to life.

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