Reciprocal relationships between vegetation structure and soil properties in selected biomes of South Africa

Mills, A. J. (2003-12)

Thesis (PhD) -- Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

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ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The effects of different land use practices on soil quality in South Africa were investigated in five contrasting biomes, with a particular emphasis on the tendency of soils to crust and soil C content. Soil quality is a nebulous concept and its applicability in the South African landscape is scrutinised. A wide range of chemical and physical soil properties were examined. The tendency of soils to crust was assessed using modulus of rupture, water dispersible clay and a new method of laboratory infiltration which was verified with rainfall simulation. Crusting was greater in bare, exposed soils than soils under vegetation and varied with soil parent material. Differences in crusting are explained by factors relating to clay dispersion such as clay mineralogy, soil C, labile or readily oxidisable C, concentration of soluble salts, soil texture and exchangeable Na percentage (ESP). Results from longterm bum plots in savanna and grassland revealed that annual burning can increase the tendency of soils to crust. Greater crusting in burnt plots is ascribed to greater dispersion of clay, which in tum is attributed to a decline in soil C, a decline in EC and an increase in ESP. The loss of nutrients from burnt plots over time is ascribed to removal of ash in surface runoff. Calcium, Mg, and K were lost more readily than Na probably because plants take up these nutrients in greater concentration than Na. The net effect was an increase in ESP. Crusting on burnt plots may be self-perpetuating, because increased runoff is likely to incsease the loss of soluble salts. Removal of vegetation due to cultivation, grazing or burning reduced soil C at all sites. Mean soil C in the 0-1 cm layer of unburnt plots in the Kruger National Park was more than three times greater than in burnt plots (2.7 vs 0.8%). The difference in soil C between treatments decreased with depth and illustrated that sampling to depths greater than a few centimetres can obscure effects of land use. The top few centimetres of soil have a disproportionate effect on soil infiltrability and nutrient cycling. This layer was named the pedoderm. Tree cover on burnt plots in the southern Kruger Nationa--l- Park is highly variable, and was hypothesised to be a function of herbivory pressure. Herbivores tended to congregate on plots with the greatest clay, Zn and Mn content and the lowest tree cover. It is suggested that soil properties determine the abundance of herbivores after fire, which in tum affects tree cover. In the Eastern Cape,intensive stocking with goats transforms dense thicket to an open savanna. Soils from goat-transformed sites had a greater tendency to crust than soils from intact thicket, probably due to aggregate weakening associated with a decline in soil C. Mean soil C content of intact thicket was almost double that of goat-transformed thicket (5.6 vs. 3% to a depth of 10 cm) and is exceptionally high for a semi-arid region. The potential to sequestrate carbon in degraded thicket landscapes is thus considerable. Managing the land for greater sequestration of C will have the added benefit of increasing soil aggregate stability, reducing the tendency of soils to crust and therefore increasing the rate of water infiltration through the pedoderm. The benefits of such an approach have been recognised by specialists in soil conservation and rural land use for many decades, based largely on empirical observation. The results of this thesis provide a more quantitative basis for appreciating the effects of soil C across a broad spectrum of South African biomes.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die invloed van verskillende landgebruikspraktyke op grondkwaliteit in Suid-Afrika is in vyf kontrasterende biome ondersoek met spesifieke klem op die neiging van gronde om korste te vorm en die grond koolstofinhoud. Grondkwaliteit is 'n vae konsep en die toepassing daarvan in die Suid-Afrikaanse grondlandskap is noukeurig ondersoek. 'n Wye reeks van chemiese en fisiese grondeienskappe is ondersoek. Die neiging van korsvorming by gronde is beraam deur die gebruik van breukmodulus, waterdispergeerbare klei en 'n nuwe metode van laboratorium-infiltrasie wat met behulp van reënvalsimulasie gekontroleer is. Korsvorming was groter in kaal, blootgestelde gronde as in gronde met 'n plantbedekking en het gewissel volgens moedermateriaal. Verskille in korsvorming word verklaar deur faktore wat verband hou met kleidispergering soos byvoorbeeld kleimineralogie, grondkoolstof, labiele of maklik oksideerbare koolstof, konsentrasie oplosbare soute, grondtekstuur en uitruilbare natriumpersentasie (UNP). Resultate van langtermyn brandpersele in savanna en grasland het getoon dat jaarlikse brand die neiging tot korsvorming kan verhoog. Meer korsvorming in brandpersele word toegeskryf aan groter kleidispergering, wat waarskynlik verband hou met 'n afname in grondkoolstof, 'n afname in elektriese geleiding (Be) en 'n toename in UNP. Plantvoedingstowwe gaan oor tyd verlore uit brandpersele, waarskynlik deur die verwydering van as in oppervlak afloop. Kalsium, Mg en K gaan meer geredelik verlore as Na, waarskynlik omdat plante hierdie voedingstowwe in groter hoeveelhede opneem as Na. Die netto effek is 'n toename in UNP. Korsvorming op brandpersele kan self instand gehou word omdat verhoogde afloop die moontlike verlies van oplosbare soute kan verhoog. Verwydering van plantegroei deur bewerking, beweiding of brand het grondkoolstof op alle plekke verlaag. Die gemiddelde grondkoolstof in die 0-1 cm laag van ongebrande persele in die Kruger Nasionale Park was meer as drie maal groter as in --.. brandpersele (2.7 vs 0.8 %). Die verskil in grondkoolstof tussen behandelings neem af met diepte wat daarop dui dat monsterneming tot dieptes groter as 'n paar sentimeters die effek van landgebruik kan verberg. Die boonste paar sentimeters van 'n grond het 'n oneweredige invloed op infiltrasie en voedingstofsirkulasie. Hierdie laag word die pedoderm genoem. Boombedekking op brandperseie in die suidelikeKruger Nasionale Park is hoogs variërend. Die hipotese was dat dit 'n funksie van druk deur planteters is. Planteters neig om op persele met die hoogste klei, Zn- en Mn-inhoud en die laagste boom bedekking te versamel. Daar word voorgestel dat grondeienskappe die hoeveelheid planteters na 'n brand bepaal. Dit beïnvloed op sy beurt weer die boombedekking. In die Oos-Kaap het intensiewe bokboerdery digte bosruigtes verander na oop savannas. Gronde van bok-veranderde lokaliteite het 'n groter neiging tot korsvorming as gronde van onveranderde bosruigtes, vermoedelik as gevolg van verswakking van aggregate met 'n. afname in grondkoolstof. Die gemiddelde grondkoolstof van onveranderde bosruigtes was byna dubbel soveel as die koolstof van bok-veranderde bosruigtes (5.6 vs 3 % tot 'n diepte van 10 cm) en buitengewoon hoog vir 'n semi-ariede streek. Die potensiaal vir koolstof sekwestrasie in degradeerde bosruigte landskappe is dus aansienlik. Bestuur van land vir groter sekwestrasie van koolstof het die bykomende voordeel van verhoogde grond aggregaatstabilteit, verlaging van die neiging tot korsvorming en daardeur 'n verhoging in die tempo van waterinfiltrasie deur die pedoderm. Die voordele van so 'n benadering is vir baie dekades deur spesialiste in grondbewaring en landelike landgebruik herken. Dit was grootliks gebaseer op empiriese waarneming. Die resultate van hierdie tesis bied 'n meer kwantitatiewe basis tot die verstaan van die invloed van grondkoolstof oor 'n breë spektrum van Suid-Afrikaanse biorne.

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