Plant response to habitat fragmentation : clues from species and functional diversity in three Cape lowland vegetation types of South Africa

Kongor, Raphael Yuniwo (2010-03)

Dissertation presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at Stellenbosch University.

Thesis (PhD (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The South African Cape lowlands have been severely transformed and reduced to fragments embedded in matrices of various activities. With the need to prioritise conservation efforts, information on the conservation worthiness and management of these fragments is required. This study aimed to better understand how fragmentation affects the Cape lowland vegetation patterns and dynamics and more specifically, to determine if, and if so to what extent these fragments contribute to regional plant diversity and more importantly their functionality. The novel approach adopted focused on plant functional traits, which are better predictors of ecosystem response to global change than individual species. Species were sampled at four scales in four sites of decreasing sizes, including: a mainland and three fragments of three Cape lowland vegetation types i.e. Atlantis Sand Fynbos (ASF), Swartland Shale Renosterveld (SSR) and Langebaan Dune Strandveld (LDS). Traits such as dispersal, pollination, breeding mode and longevity were selected based on relevance to species’ and plantfunctional types’ (PFTs) responses to fragmentation. The findings revealed different effects on species richness and PFTs. The effect of reduced patch size on species richness was more evident in ASF where fragments below 600 ha had significantly fewer species than the mainland. This effect was not unequivocal in SSR and LDS due to several confounding factors (notably the grazing history of the sites). The SSR fragment grazed by indigenous herbivores had significantly more species than the ungrazed sites. Also, the largest LDS fragment grazed by livestock had significantly more species than the ungrazed mainland, indicating that grazing rather than fragment size influences species richness, although the smallest fragments of these two vegetation types had significantly fewer species than the larger fragments. Species turnover and complementarity were high for all three vegetation types, reflecting the degree of habitat heterogeneity and high contribution of beta diversity to overall gama diversity. The effect of reduced patch size was higher on PFT diversity than on PFT richness, with Langebaan Dune Strandveld where habitat fragmentation was more recent being the least affected of the three vegetation types. This indicates a degree of functional redundancy in the Cape lowlands, which is important for ecosystem resistance and resilience. The ASF mainland and the largest fragment had higher PFT diversity than the medium-sized and the smallest fragments; the mainland had also higher PFT diversity than all the fragments combined. Similarly, the smallest SSR fragment had significantly lower PFT diversity and richness than the other sites. The grazed SSR fragment had higher PFT richness and diversity than the ungrazed mainland and smallest fragment, indicating the role of grazing in maintaining renosterveld vegetation. The PFTs absent from the different sites were mostly short-distance dispersed dioecious and non-dioecious species, and some with highly specialised pollination systems. This suggests that dispersal and pollination are vital functional attributes for the persistence of the studied fragmented ecosystems. Habitat fragmentation effects plant community composition and ecological functions in the Cape lowlands, a conclusion supported also by the revealed significant trait-convergence and divergence assembly patterns. These communities result from various fragmentation filters that operate at different spatial-temporal scales and selecting species with suitable responses. All three vegetation types are susceptible to fragmentation, albeit at varying degree. The fragmentation effect was confounded by the sampling and temporal scales, the nature of disturbance regime, and the traitmediated differences in species’ response. The role of the surrounding matrix on fragment connectivity and gene flow appears to be of crucial importance, hence mitigation measures focusing on improving connectivity between patches, monitoring threatened taxa, and promoting dispersal and pollination have been recommended.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Suid-Afrika se Kaapse laagland het dramaties verander en weggekwyn tot fragmente wat in matrikse van verskeie bedrywighede veranker is. Gedagtig aan die voorkeuraandag wat bewaringspogings tans geniet, is inligting oor die bewaringswaardigheid en bestuur van hierdie fragmente nodig. Hierdie studie stel dit ten doel om beter begrip te vorm van hoe fragmentasie die plantegroeipatrone en -dinamiek in die Kaapse laagland raak, en meer bepaald om vas te stel óf, en indien wel, in watter mate, hierdie fragmente tot streeksplantdiversiteit en -funksionaliteit bydra. Die ongewone studiebenadering konsentreer op funksionele kenmerke van plante, wat beter aanwyser van ekosisteemreaksie op wêreldwye verandering is as individuele spesies. Spesiemonsters is op vier skale by vier terreine van wisselende grootte ingesamel, wat insluit moederstrook en drie fragmente van elk van drie plantegroeisoorte in die Kaapse laagland, naamlik Atlantis-sandfynbos (ASF), Swartland-skalierenosterveld (SSR) en Langebaan-duinestrandveld (LDS). Kenmerke soos verspreiding, bestuiwing, voortplantingsmetode en lewensduur is gekies op grond van die tersaaklikheid daarvan vir spesies en plantfunksionele tipes (PFT’s) se reaksie op fragmentasie. Die studie bring verskillende uitwerkings op spesie-oorvloed en PFT’s aan die lig. Wat spesie-oorvloed betref, was die uitwerking van kleiner strookgrootte (“patch size”)duideliker te sien by ASF, waar fragmente kleiner as 600 ha beduidend minder spesies as die moederstrook bevat het. Hierdie uitwerking kon nie so duidelik by SSR en LDS waargeneem word nie weens verskeie strengelingsfaktore, veral die weidingsgeskiedenis van die terreine. Die SSR-fragment waarop inheemse herbivore gewei het, het beduidend meer spesies as die onbeweide terreine bevat. Voorts het die grootste LDS-fragment waarop vee gewei het heelwat meer spesies as die onbeweide moederstrook gehad, wat daarop dui dat weiding eerder as fragmentgrootte spesie-oorvloed beïnvloed, hoewel die kleinste fragmente van hierdie twee plantsoorte steeds aansienlik minder spesies as die groter fragmente bevat het. Spesie-omset en -aanvullendheid was hoog vir ál drie plantsoorte, wat aanwyser is van die mate van habitat-heterogeniteit en die groot bydrae wat betadiversiteit tot algehele gammadiversiteit lewer. Die uitwerking van kleiner strookgrootte was duideliker te bespeur op PFT-diversiteit as PFT-oorvloed – in dié verband het LDS, waar habitatfragmentasie mees onlangs plaasgevind het, die ligste van die drie plantsoorte afgekom. Dít dui op mate van funksionele oorbodigheid in die Kaapse laagland wat belangrik is vir ekosisteemweerstandigheid en -gehardheid. Die ASF-moederstrook en die grootste ASF-fragment het hoër PFT-diversiteit getoon as die medium- en kleinste fragmente; die moederstrook het in werklikheid oor hoër PFT-diversiteit as ál die fragmente saam beskik. Insgelyks het die kleinste SSR-fragment beduidend minder PFT-diversiteit en -oorvloed as die ander terreine getoon. Die beweide SSR-fragment was hoër in PFT-oorvloed én -diversiteit as die onbeweide moederstrook en die kleinste fragment, wat die rol van weiding in die instandhouding van renosterveldplantegroei beklemtoon. Die PFT’s wat nié op die verskillende terreine voorgekom het nie, was meestal tweehuisige en nietweehuisige spesies wat oor kort afstande versprei, en sommige spesies met hoogs gespesialiseerde bestuiwingstelsels. Dít dui daarop dat verspreiding en bestuiwing noodsaaklike funksionele kenmerke vir die voortbestaan van die bestudeerde gefragmenteerde ekosisteme is. Habitatfragmentasie raak die samestelling en ekologiese funksies van plantgemeenskappe in die Kaapse laagland. Dié gevolgtrekking word ook gerugsteun deur die bewese patrone van beduidende kenmerkkonvergensie (“trait convergence”) en divergensiesamekoms (“divergence assembly”). Hierdie plantgemeenskappe spruit uit verskeie fragmentasiefilters wat op verskillende ruimte-tydskale funksioneer, en wat spesies met geskikte reaksies kies. Ál drie plantsoorte is ontvanklik vir fragmentasie, hoewel in wisselende mate. Die fragmentasie-uitwerking is beïnvloed deur monsterinsameling- en tydskale, die soort versteuringsbedeling, en die kenmerkbemiddelde (“traitmediated”) verskille in spesiereaksie. Die rol van die omringende matriks op fragmentverbondenheid en geenvloei blyk van die allergrootste belang te wees, en dus word temperingsmaatreëls aanbeveel wat daarop gemik is om verbondenheid tussen stroke te verbeter, bedreigde taksa te moniteer, en verspreiding en bestuiwing aan te help.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4604
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