Research ArticleECOLOGY

Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius): The animal silicon pump

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Science Advances  01 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav0395
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav0395


While the importance of grasslands in terrestrial silicon (Si) cycling and fluxes to rivers is established, the influence of large grazers has not been considered. Here, we show that hippopotamuses are key actors in the savannah biogeochemical Si cycle. Through a detailed analysis of Si concentrations and stable isotope compositions in multiple ecosystem compartments of a savannah-river continuum, we constrain the processes influencing the Si flux. Hippos transport 0.4 metric tons of Si day−1 by foraging grass on land and directly egesting in the water. As such, they bypass complex retention processes in secondary soil Si pools. By balancing internal processes of dissolution and precipitation in the river sediment, we calculate that hippos affect up to 76% of the total Si flux. This can have a large impact on downstream lake ecosystems, where Si availability directly affects primary production in the diatom-dominated phytoplankton communities.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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