Vegetation, soil and grazing relationships in the Middelburg District of the Eastern Cape

Hendricks, Neile Oliver (2003-12)

Thesis (MSc)--University of Stellenbosch, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Arid and semi-arid rangelands of the Nama-Karoo Biome are believed to have changed considerably since the arrival of domestic livestock in the veld. Severe grazing pressure is considered to be one of the prime factors responsible for the perceived degradation of vegetation and concurrent soil degradation. To understand the process of degradation and to make further recommendations for future veld restoration, a large-scale project was undertaken in the Eastern Cape. This project focused on the role that landscape heterogeneity plays in providing refuges for plant species. The key question asked in this project was: What role do these hypothetically less grazed mesas play in the conservation of rangelands in the Nama-Karoo of the Eastern Cape? This study, a component of the larger project, investigated grazing and soil landscape gradients on- and off- the three mesas (Tafelberg, Folminkskop and Buffelskop) in the Middelburg District of the Eastern Cape, South Africa and the possible influences that they might have on the veld. The flats surrounding the mesas were mostly used as grazing camps in contrast to the plateaux of the mesas, which had varied levels of accessibility. In the absence of direct observations, the primary objective of the study was to test the differential dung pellet abundance and impact of animals on different parts of the landscape. As such, dung pellet counts in this study were correlated with surrogates of soil physical properties including bare ground, trampling and litter cover. Variation in dung pellet density was found at the different habitats (flats, slopes and plateaux) of all mesas. The flats to the north-eastern and south-western of Tafelberg mesa were found to be more heavily utilized by livestock and herbivores, while the plateaux and southeastern slopes of Folminkskop and Buffelskop were also utilized by grazers. The Tafelberg mesa was the only study site that was consistent with the hypothesis which stated that grazers would be less concentrated on the plateau compared to the surrounding flats due to its inaccessibility, whilst the high mean dung pellet density on the plateaux of the smaller Folminkskop and Buffelskop mesas due to easier access contradicted the original hypothesis. It appeared that dung pellet density did not clearly turn out to be an indicator of habitat use in this study, but showed where slopes and plateaux were accessible to herbivores, as in the case for the Buffelskop mesa, a higher abundance of dung pellets were found suggesting that higher intensities of habitat use took place. During this study a strong pattern was observed of bare soil patches on the flats surrounding the mesas. There was a decrease in percentage of bare soil along the gradient of the three mesas with a high percentage of bare soil on the plateaux of the mesas. A significant correlation was found between bare soil and dung pellet density. However, the plateaux of Folminkskop and Buffelskop had a high percentage of bare soil compared to the plateau of Tafelberg mesa. Farmers mainly used these smaller mesas as grazing camps for their livestock and herbivores. A positive correlation between bare soil and litter cover of the different habitats was evident in this study. A lower percentage of litter cover at these sites was associated with a high percentage of bare soil. Litter is very important in a healthy vegetation community in terms of nutrient cycling and fertile patches. A detailed assessment of soil chemical and physical properties would reveal, firstly, if vegetation change is better explained by soil or grazing effects and, secondly, if changes in soil have resulted from land use. Differences in macro- and micro-site variations between open-canopy (between shrubs) and closed-canopy (under shrubs) sites for each habitat were determined to differentiate between local scales due to land use and landscape scales due to geomorphology. The results suggested that carbon, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese levels in soils at landscape scale better explain vegetation changes between habitats. At a local scale (open- and closed-canopy sites) land use was responsible for little changes in soils. Changes in only soil potassium, zinc and boron elements were actually a consequence of local scales due to land use. The soil nutrient content on the slopes appeared to be intermediate between the flats and plateaux of all three mesas. It appeared that dolerite capped Tafelberg and Folminkskop mesas had high silt and clay content, while Buffelskop (sandstone) mesa had a lower silt and clay content. Consequently, the texture and parent material of the soils contributed to the variations in soil nutrient composition between these mesas. High infiltration rate together with low nutrient content on the flats clearly showed that these flats, surrounding the mesas were degraded. The high infiltration rates were caused by high activity by livestock and other indigenous animals on the flats which breaks the surface crusting of bare soil and improve infiltration. It was concluded that high levels of grazing at these sites have also altered the textural and soil properties. Endozoochory dispersal and the deposition of dung pellets in areas of small patch disturbances play an important role in veld regeneration in degraded areas. Dung pellets collected from permanent study sites on the southeastern and northwestern flats and slopes, and all the study sites on the plateau of Tafelberg mesa, was sown in seedling trays, watered and monitored for seedling germination. Species list were then compared to below-ground soil seed bank data and above-ground vegetation data collected by other researchers at the same permanent study sites. Higher seedling percentages were recorded from dung pellets collected on the flats than on the plateau. A total of sixteen species were found to germinate in dung pellets collected on the flats compared to ten species germinating in dung pellets collected on the slopes and two species on the plateau of Tafelberg mesa. The seeds that germinated represent a variety of palatable grasses and shrub species. Aristida sp., Eragrostis bicolor, Eragrostis ch/orome/as and Eragrostis obtusa were palatable grasses recorded for dung pellets collected on the flats. Of the species recorded, Aristida sp., Chenopodium sp. and Pentzia sp. were found in dung pellets but were not recorded in parallel soil seedbank and vegetation studies. Successful restoration of veld conditions requires strict grazing management practices. Germination of seed in dung pellets might be considered to be a valuable means of indicating restoration potential and rangeland conditions for the identification of both degraded and conservation worthy areas. With appropriate land management skills and restoration measures, these challenges can be constructively and creatively faced.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Daar word geglo dat die ariede en sernl-arlede weivelde van die Nama-Karoo bioom aansienlik verander het sedert die aankoms van mak lewende hawe in die veld. Swaar weidingsdruk word beskou as een van die vernaamste faktore verantwoordelik vir die waarneembare oorbeweiding van plantegroei en die gelyktydige grond agteruitgang (degradasie). Ten einde die proses van degradasie beter te verstaan, en om verdere aanbevelings te kan maak vir toekomstige veld herstel, is huidiglik 'n grootskaalse projek in die Oos-Kaap aan die gang oor die rol wat landskap ongelyksoortigheid speel in die voorsiening van skuiling aan plant spesies. Hierdie studie ondersoek weiding en grondlandskap gradiënte (op en af) van die drie mesas (Tafelberg, Folminkskop en Buffelskop) in die Middelburg streek van die Oos- Kaap, Suid-Afrika en die moontlike invloed wat hierdie gradiënte op die veld het. Die vlaktes was meestal gebruik vir weidingskampe in teenstelling met die kruin van die mesas. Hierdie studie het duidelike patrone vir habitat-gebruik op die vlaktes, hange en kruine van al die mesas aangetoon. Die vraag wat gestel was, was watter rol speel hierdie hipoteties minder beweide mesas in die bewaring van weivelde in die Nama- Karoo van die Oos-Kaap? Hierdie studie toets nie direk vir mis verspreiding as 'n plaasvervanger vir dier verspreiding in die landskap sedert werklike dier getalle nie oorweeg was nie. In die awesigheid van direkte waarneming, die primêre doelwit was om te toets die differensiaal misdigtheid en die impak van diere op verskillende dele van die landskap. Mis getalle in hierdie studie was gekorreleer met plaasvervangers van fisiese eienskappe insluitent onbedekte grond, vertrapping en droë plant material decking. Variasie in misdigtheid was gevind by die verskillende habitate (vlaktes, hange en kruine) van all die mesas. Die vlaktes aan die noord-oostelike en suid-westelike kante van die Tafelberg mesa was meer hewig benut deur lewende hawe en hêrbivore, terwyl die kruine en suid-oostelike hange van Folminkskop en Buffelskop ook gebruik was deur weidende diere. Die Tafelberg mesa was die enigste studie area wat konsekwent was met die hipotese, terwyl die hoë gemiddeld misdigtheid op die kruine van die kleiner Folminkskop en Buffelskop mesas, as gevolg van makliker toegang weerspreek die oorspronklike hipotese. Dit blyk dat misdigtheid duidelik opkom as 'n nie aanwyser habitat-gebruik in hierdie studie, maar wys well waar hange en kruine toeganklik was vir herbivore, soos in die geval van Buffelskop mesa, oorvloed van mis was gevind wat voorstel dat hoer intensiteit van habitat-gebruik voorgekom het. 'n Duidelike patroon is waargeneem tydens hierdie studie van onbedekte grond areas op die vlaktes rondom mesas. Daar was 'n afname in persentasie onbedekte grond langs die gradiënt van die drie mesas. Die kruine van Folminkskop en Buffelskop toon hoër persentasies onbedekte grond in vergelyking met die kruin van die Tafelberg mesa. Daar is 'n betekenisvolle korrelasie tussen onbedekte grond en misdigtheid gevind. Boere gebruik hierdie kleiner mesas hoofsaaklik as weidingskampe vir hulle lewende hawe en hêrbivore. In hierdie studie is daar 'n positiewe korrelasie gevind tussen onbedekte grond en droë plant material decking van die verskillende habitatte. Droë plantmateriaal bedekking speel 'n baie belangrik rol in 'n gesonde plant gemeenskap in terme van voedingsirkulering en vrugbare kolle. 'n Breedvoerige skatting van grond chemise en fisiese eienskappe wou openbaar eerstens of plantegroei verandering beter verklaar word deur grond of weiding effekte en tweedens, of verandering in grond veroorsaak was deur land-gebruik. Verskille in makro- en mikroterrein-wisseling tussen oop-blaredak (tussenplantruimtes) en toeblaredak (onderplantdekking) terreine vir elke habitat was bepaal om te onderskei tussen lokaal effek as gevolg van land-gebruik en landskap effek as gevolg van geomorfologie. Die resultate stel voor dat koolstof, fosfor, kalsium, magnesium, koper en mangaan vlakke in die grond by landskap effek beter plantegroei verandering tussen habitate verduidelik. By 'n lokaal effek (oop-en toe-blaredak terreine) land-gebruik was verantwoordelik vir min veranderinge in grond. Verandering in grond kalium, sink en baron elemente was werklik 'n gevolg van lokaal effek as gevolg van land-gebruik. Die nutrient inhoud van grond op die hange blyk intermediêr te wees tussen die van die vlaktes en kruine van al drie mesas. Hierdie studie toon ook dat die geologie en topografie van hierdie mesas die grond tekstuur en nutrient samestelling op en af van die mesas beinvloed. Dit wil voorkom asof die dolerite bedekte Tafelberg en Folminkskop mesas, hoë slik en klei materiaal bevat, terwyl Buffelskop (sandsteen) mesa 'n laer slik en klei inhoud het. Gevolglik, tekstueel en ouer materiaal grond dra by tot die variasie in grond nutrient samestelling tussen hierdie mesas. Hoë infiltrasie tempo tesame met lae voedingstof van die vlaktes dui daarop dat die vlaktes rondom die mesas oorbewei was. Hierdie hoë infiltrasie tempo word veroorsaak deur hoë dierlike aktiwieteite op die vlaktes deur lewende hawe en ander inheemse diere wat die oppervlakke van onbedekte grond versteur en infiltrasie verbeter. Die gevolgtrekking word gemaak dat die hoë weidingsvlakke van hierdie terreine ook die tekstuur en ander grond eienskappe verander het. Endozoochoreeuse verspreiding en die mis-afsetting in gebiede van klein areaversteurings, speel 'n belangrike rol in veld herlewing in oorbeweide gebiede. Mis versamel by permanente studie terreine op die SO en NW vlaktes en hange, as ook al die studie terreine op die kruin van die Tafelberg mesa, is gesaai in saailing bakke, besproei en gekontroleer vir saailing ontkieming. 'n Lys van spesies is vergelyk met onder-grondse saadbank gegewens en bo-grondse plantegroei gegewens wat deur ander navorsers by dieselfde studie terreine versamel was. Hoër saailing persentasies is gevind vir mis wat op die vlaktes versamel is as op die kruine. 'n Totaal van sestien geidentifiseerde spesies het uit die mis op die vlaktes ontkiem in vergelyking met die tien spesies wat ontkiem het uit die mis van die hange en twee spesies iut die mis van die kruin van Tafelberg mesa. Die ontkiemde saad verteenwoordig 'n verskeidenheid van vreetbare gras en struik spesies. Aristide sp., Eragrostis bicolor, Eragrostis chloromelas en Eragrostis obtusa is vreetbare grasse wat gevind was in die mis versamelop die vlaktes. Die spesies opname wys dat Aristida sp., Chenopodium sp. en Pentzia sp. Gevind was in die mis, maar nie in die parallelle grond saadbank en plantegroei studies nie. Die suksesvolle herstel van veldtoestande vereis "n streng weidingsbestuur toepassing. Die ontkieming van saad in mis kan beskou word as "n bekostigbare manier om veld herstel potentiaal te bepaal, asook weiveld toestande vir die indentifiseering van beide degradasie en bewaring van waardevolle areas. Met gepaste veldbestuur vaardighede en herstel maatreels, kan hierdie uitdagings konstruktief en kreatief aangespreek word.

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