Gap regeneration in the Tsitsikamma forest (Easter Cape, South Africa) : the effect of gap size and origin

Ella, Ghislain (2005-12)

Thesis (MSc(For))--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Recognizing the biological significance of gaps, the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) in 1989 initiated a Gap Dynamics Project in the indigenous forests of Tsitsikamma (Eastern Cape, South Africa). This consists of three sub-projects: Koomansbos (9300 m2), created by a ground fire in 1989; Plaatbos (1600 m2), made by a Podocarpus falcatus (Thunb.) R. Br. ex Mirb. (Podocarpaceae) windfall in 1994; and nine gaps of different sizes, artificially created by selective tree felling in 1995: three small (100-150 m2), three medium (300-500 m2) and three large (800-1000 m2). All the gaps were surveyed after creation and permanent plots were established for subsequent monitoring. The current timber harvesting system practiced in South African indigenous forests attempts to minimize gap size. It has been proposed by Euston-Brown et al. (1996) that this practice is likely to benefit the more shade tolerant species, but may inhibit the regeneration of less shade tolerant plants in the forest. Therefore, the present study aimed to verify two hypotheses: gaps may close in a process that is determined by their size, their origin and the plant species characteristics; soil quality might change inside those gaps. For the purpose of the study, the gaps cited above were re-surveyed between 2002 and 2003. It was found that: 1) there was little clear difference in the community structure of plant species between gaps of different sizes and origins; as expected from the species-area relationship, large gaps had higher species richness, plant diversity and herbaceous percentage cover than medium and small gaps; diversity indices were higher in the large windfall gap than in the large fire and artificial gaps; generally, context and stochastic events were largely more important in determining gap diversity and regeneration than gap sizes and origins; 2) diversity indices in the gaps were higher than recorded previously; 3) soil pH and Electrical Conductivity were respectively lower and higher inside the gaps than adjacent to them; these variations were statistically significant. Present data on the vegetation in the gaps were compared to past measurements, and future vegetation structure has been predicted, as a function of current gap vegetation. Recommendations have been made for sustainable management of the indigenous forest of Tsitsikamma.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Voortspruitend uit die erkenning van die biologiese belang van gapings, het die Suid-Afrikaanse Departement van Waterwese en Bosbou (DWB) in 1989 'n projek oor gapingsdinamika in die inheemse woude van Tsitsikamma (Oos-Kaap, Suid-Afrika) geïnisieer. Dit bestaan uit drie subprojekte: die gaping in Koomansbos (9300 m2) wat in 1989 deur 'n grondvuur geskep is; die gaping in Plaatbos (1600 m2) wat veroorsaak is toe bome van die spesie Podocarpus falcatus (Thunb.) R. Br. ex Mirb. (Podocarpaceae) in 1994 omgewaai is; en nege gapings van verskillende groottes wat in 1995 kunsmatig deur geselekteerde boomkappery geskep is: drie is klein (100-150 m2), drie mediumgrootte (300-500 m2) en drie groot (800-1000 m2). Alle gapings is ná hulle ontstaan opgemeet en ondersoek en permanente terreine is vir daaropvolgende monitering gevestig. Die stelsel wat tans vir die oes van hout in Suid-Afrikaanse inheemse woude gebruik word, poog om die grootte van gapings te minimaliseer. Euston Brown et al. (1996) doen aan die hand dat hierdie praktyk spesies wat meer skaduweeverdraagsaam is waarskynlik sal bevoordeel, maar die regenerasie van plante in die woud wat minder skaduweeverdraagsaam is, kan inhibeer. Hierdie studie het dus ten doel gehad om twee hipoteses te verifieer: Gapings kan toegroei in 'n proses wat deur hul grootte, oorsprong en die eienskappe van die plantspesies bepaal word; en die gehalte van die grond binne daardie gapings kan verander. Die gapings waarna hierbo verwys is, is vir die doel van hierdie studie tussen 2002 en 2003 weer gemonitor. Daar is bevind dat: 1) daar min duidelike verskille was tussen die gemeenskapstruktuur van plantspesies tussen gapings van verskillende groottes en oorsprong; soos van die verhouding tussen spesies en area verwag kan word, het groter gapings 'n hoër spesierykheid, plantdiversiteit en persentasie niehoutagtige dekking as medium- en klein gapings gehad; diversiteitsindekse was hoër in die groot Plaatbosgaping as in die groot Koomansbosgaping of die kunsmatige gapings; in die algemeen was konteks en stochastiese gebeure grootliks belangriker in die bepaling van gapingsdiversiteit en -regenerasie as gapingsgrootte of -oorsprong; 2) diversiteitsindekse in die gapings was hoër as wat voorheen aangeteken is; en 3) grond-pH en elektriese geleidingsvermoë was onderskeidelik laer en hoër binne die gapings as neffens hulle; hierdie variasies was statisties beduidend. Huidige data oor die plantegroei in die gapings is met vorige metings vergelyk, en 'n toekomstige plantegroeistruktuur is as 'n funksie van huidige gapingsplantegroei voorspel. Aanbevelings is gemaak rakende die volhoubare bestuur van Tsitsikamma se inheemse woud.

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