Bozhidar Stankovikj ’20, Woodrow Wilson School

I helped investigate the relationship between plant traits and the dietary preferences of large mammal herbivores in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Gorongosa itself was an incredible research location because of its unique history: it was the center of a 15-year civil war that nearly wiped out the large herbivorous species. Due to the work of the Gorongosa Restoration Project, we are now able to witness the recovery of an ecosystem in real time. My research group tried to explain why certain plants were over- or underrepresented in animal diets. We knew the diets because of previous work that used DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples to create a database of the plants each species eats. We collected more than 150 plant species. For each, we analyzed a list of more than 30 physical and chemical traits, such as branch architecture, height and specific leaf area, and protein/carbon/ nitrogen content. This helped us understand what plants are eaten and why.