Elephants are famous symbols of the African savanna, but they are less known for their role as ecosystem engineers: organisms that create, change, or maintain habitats. Elephants transform their habitats in a variety of ways: by knocking down trees, pulling up grass, plowing trails through dense plants, and digging water holes that other animals can use. Scientists have observed these impacts for decades. More recently, they’ve started studying the broader effects of elephants on species diversity.
Scientists compared similar areas where elephants were either present or absent. Areas where elephants were present had a greater diversity of small reptiles and amphibians. One possible explanation is that trees damaged by elephants provide habitats for communities of smaller animals.