The impact of landuse on invertebrate assemblages in the Succulent Karoo, South Africa

Nchai, Makebitsamang Constance (2008-12)

Thesis (MScConsEcol(Conservation Ecology and Entomology)--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The Succulent Karoo biodiversity hotspot is threatened by pressure caused by increasing human populations and its associated land use types. Land use is primarily focussed on agriculture, with livestock grazing as a dominant land use in the region. Cultivation is also practiced along the major perennial rivers, and in drier areas, where this largely depends on rainfall. Only about seven percent of the biome is formally protected, and this area substantially under-represents the biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo and does not incorporate key ecological processes and biodiversity drivers. Therefore, there is urgent need for outside reserve conservation initiatives, whose success depend on understanding the ecosystem function of the Succulent Karoo. This study aimed to determine the impacts of heavy grazing, light grazing and cultivation (in a 30-year old fallow field) on assemblages of ground-dwelling and flying invertebrates. Seasonal assemblage changes were also determined. Vegetation structure and composition were determined using the line-intercept method to determine if vegetation patterns explain patterns in invertebrate assemblages. Abandoned fields harbour the lowest number of plant species, and these together with the heavily grazed sizes are dominated by a high cover of Galenia africana (Aizoaceae). Lightly grazed sites have the highest structural complexity, with a high cover of succulents and non-succulent perennials. After the winter rains, annual plants occupy most of the bare ground in heavily grazed and previously cultivated sites. Seasonal changes in assemblages of ground-dwelling and flying invertebrates were determined by sampling during the four seasons at the same localities. Results of pitfall traps sampling for ground-dwelling invertebrates and coloured pan traps for flying invertebrates showed that overall species richness and diversity peaked in spring for flying invertebrates while peaks in richness for ground-dwelling invertebrates were in summer, with no difference in overall diversity. Overall abundance for ground-dwelling invertebrates was highest in summer and lowest in winter. Ground-dwelling invertebrate fauna was dominated by Formicidae and Araneae. Grazing and cultivation lead to skewed community composition of ground-dwelling invertebrates which favours disturbance tolerant and generalist species such as Anoplolepis steingroeveri (Forel).

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