Structure and function of heuweltjies across a rainfall gradient in the South-Western Cape

Booi, Nozuko (2011-02-24)

Thesis (MScConEcol (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Heuweltjies are below ground termitaria found along the west coast and the south-western and -eastern Cape. They traversing different climates, soil and vegetation types within the Succulent Karoo and Fynbos biomes. From a birds eye view, heuweltjies appear as near-circular landscape features, demonstrating clear difference in vegetation structure to their surroundings. A study of aspects of the structure and function of heuweltjies, mima-like mounds of south-western South Africa was undertaken. The main aim of the study was to investigate topsoil properties and processes and vegetation structure and the ecophysiology of plants growing on these mounds, and compare it to areas off these patches. Four study sites across a rainfall gradient were chosen for soil and vegetation studies (two within the Succulent Karoo and two at the Fynbos biome). Ten sampling sites on heuweltjies and 10 off heuweltjie (interpatch) were chosen at each study site for these analyses. Soils samples from the top 10 cm were analysed for total nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) content, phosphorus (P) concentrations, particle-size distributions, pH and electrical conductivity (related to salinity). Soil biogeochemistry studies (i.e. potential N mineralization, potential soil respiration and phosphatase activity) were also done in the laboratory. In the field, the cover of soil cryptogams, selected plant growth forms and selected physical variables at each site, on and off heuweltjies, were estimated on 1m2 grids. Two of the study sites, one in the Succulent Karoo and one in Fynbos, were chosen for field measurements of stomatal conductance, predawn and midday xylem water potentials of two growth forms (deciduous and evergreen non-succulent shrubs) at selected times in the duration of the study. Leaf samples were taken to make once-off measurements of specific leaf area, C and N isotope compositions (δ13C, δ15N), and foliar N content. Furthermore, a fertilization experiment that has been running at the Tierberg Karoo Research Centre (Succulent Karoo) since 1997, where 10g m-2 of N have been added to interpatch vegetation twice annually, was included in the stomatal conductance and xylem water potential studies. The aim of including the fertilization experiment was to ascertain whether interpatch vegetation will eventually resemble heuweltjie vegetation in ecophysiology following N fertilization. Soil water probes were inserted, 10 cm deep, on one on heuweltjie and one off heuweltjie site for the long-term estimation of gravimetric water content and temperature at the Tierberg Karoo Research Centre. Heuweltjie soils were found to be hotspots for nutrients and biogeochemical activity. They had elevated levels of total % C, % N and available P (mg kg-1) compared to surrounding interpatch soils. pH and electrical conductivity (μS cm-1) of these soils were also high compared to interpatch areas. Heuweltjie soils have higher silt content and retain more water, and for a longer period following a rainstorm. Potential soil respiration, potential N mineralization and alkaline and acid phosphatase activity were generally higher on heuweltjies.Cover of the selected plant growth forms differed little between heuweltjies and the surrounding vegetation but site differences were observed. Heuweltjies differed from interpatches in the cover of soil cryptogams, with higher cover of mosses and lower cover of lichens on mounds. There was higher cover of plant litter and termite frass on the heuweltjies.There was a decrease in soil available P and increase in non-succulent shrub cover from low to high rainfall areas. On the other hand no significant differences were found in the xylem water potential of interpatch and heuweltjie plants at either of the study sites. At the Tierberg Karoo Research, stomatal conductance of interpatch plants was higher and water use efficiency (δ13C) lower compared to that of heuweltjie plants suggesting some level of water stress for heuweltjie plants at this site. Here, heuweltjie plants also had higher foliar N, lower C/N ratio values, signs of high photosynthetic potential and highly decomposable litter and higher δ15N. At Jonaskop, stomatal conductance and water use efficiency did not differ between heuweltjies and interpatch plants. There were also no differences in foliar N concentrations, C/N ratios and δ15N between heuweltjie and interpatch plants at this site. Plants growing in high N plots (the fertilizer plots) had higher xylem water potential and more variable stomatal conductance than those growing in control plots. The results of this study have shown heuweltjies to be hotspots for nutrients and biogeochemical cycling, and given enough water, will be ideal patches for plant growth. In the Succulent Karoo, high salinity (and finer textured soils) on the heuweltjies may contribute to water stress during dry periods, and together with disturbance, provide bottom-up controls on plant physiology, and ultimately, vegetation structure. In the Fynbos, plants may be limited by nutrients on heuweltjies, possibly because of increased interspecific competition, while increased rainfall may also lead to more nutrients leaching from the topsoils. The results presented are especially relevant to restoration programs, and may shed some light on restoration trajectories after overgrazing, cultivation and mining activities.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Heuweltjies is ondergrondse termitaria wat langs die weskus, die suid-wes en oos Kaap van Suid Afrika voorkom. Hulle kom voor onder verskillende klimaatstreke, grondtipes en planttipes wat binne die Sukkulente Karoo en Fynbos biome voorkom. Vanuit die lug uitgesien, verskyn heuweltjies as sirkelvormige landskapseienskappe, wat duidelike verskille in plant struktuur en die omringende omgewing demonstreer. ʼn Studie van aspekte van struktuur enfunksie van ʼn heuweltjies, mima-agtige hope vansuidwestelike Suid-Afrikais onderneem. Die hoofdoel van die studie was om die eienskappe van oppervlakgrondeen -prosesse, plant struktuur, en die ekofisiologie van plante wat op heuweltjies groei te ondersoek, en dit te vergelyk met areas af van hierdie kolle. Vier studieareas wat oor „n reënvalgradient strek is gekies vir grond en plantegroei studies (twee binne die Sukkulente Karoo en twee binne die Fynbos biome). Tien monsterareas op heuweltjies en 10 af van heuweltjies (omringende areas) is gekies binne elke studiearea vir die bogenoemde analises. Grondmonsters van die boonste 10 cm van die grond is geneem en geanalieseer vir totale stikstof (N) en koolstof (C), fosfor (P) konsentrasies, gronddeeltjiegrootte, pH, en elektriese geleidingsvermoë, (hou verband met soutgehalte). Grond biogeochemie studies (d.i. potensiële stikstof mineralisasie, potensiële grond respirasie en fosfatase aktiwiteit) is ook in die laboratorium uitgevoer. In die veld was die dekking van grond kriptogame, geselekteerde plant groeivorms en fisiese veranderlikes by elke lokaliteit, beide op en van heuweltjies op 1m2vierkante bereken. Twee studie lokaliteite, een in die Sukkulent Karoo en een in die Fynbos, is gekies vir veld metings van huidmondjiegeleiding, voor dagbreek en middag xileem potensiale van twee groei vorms (bladwisselende en immergroen nie-sukkulente struike) op geselekteerde tye gedurende die studie. Blaarmonsters is geneem om eenmalige metings te maak van die spesifieke blaararea, C en N isotoop komposisies (δ13C, δ15N), en blaar N inhoud. Verder is „nbemestingseksperiment wat by die Tierberg Karoo Navorsing Sentrum (Sukkulente Karoo) loop sedert 1997, waar 10gm-2 van N jaarliks twee keer bygevoeg word by die plante wat tussen heuweltjies groei ingesluit in die stomata geleiding en xileem water potensiaal studies. Die doel van die bevrugting eksperiment was om vas te stel of die omliggende plante (af van heuweltjies) uiteindelik soos die van die heuweltjiessal lyk in terme van ekofisologie nadat dit met stikstof bemes is. Grondwater monitoreringsapparaat was ingesit (10cm diep) op een op heuweltjie en een lokaliteitaf van die heuweltjie vir die langtermyn bepaling van gravimetriese water inhoud (m3m-3) en temperatuur by die Tierberg Karoo Navorsing Sentrum. Daar is gevind dat grond op heuweltjies “skerpkolle” is vir voedingstowwe en biogeochemiese aktiwiteit. Hulle het ook verhoogte vlakke van totale %C, % N, en beskikbare P (mg kg-1) teenoor die omliggende areas om die heuweltjies. pH en elektriese geleidingsvermoë (μS cm-1) van hierdie gronde was ook hoër in vergelyking met die omliggende areas. Heuweltjie grond het „n hoër sout inhoud gehad en behou meer water vir ʼn langer periode na ʼn reënstorm. Potensiële grond respirasie, potensiële stikstof mineralisasie, en alkaliese en suur fosfatase aktiwiteit is oor die algemeen hoër op heuweltjies. Die voorkoms van die geselekteerde plant groeivorms verskil min tussen heuweltjies en die omliggende omgewing, maar verskille tussen studie areas is opgemerk. Heuweltjies het verskil van areas af van heuweltjies in die voorkoms van grond kriptogame, met ʼn hoër voorkoms van mosse en ʼn laer voorkoms van ligene op die heuweltjies. Daar was hoër voorkoms van plantafvalmateriaal en termiet uitwerpsel op die heuweltjies. Daar was ʼn afname in grond P (mg kg-1) en ʼn toename in nie-sukkulente struik bedekking van lae tot hoë reënval areas. Daar was geen verskil in die xileem water potensiaal van plante op die heuweltjies of af van die heuweltjies by enige van die studie lokaliteite nie. By die Tierberg Karoo Navorsing Sentrum was huidmondjie geleiding van plant in die areas tussen heuweltjies hoër en die water gebruik doeltreffendheid (δ13C) laer in vergelyking met die van die heuweltjie plante, wat op„n sekere vlak waterstres dui in heuweltjie plante by hierdie studiearea. Hier het heuweltjie plante ook hoër blaar N, laer C/N waardes, tekens van hoër fotosintetiese potensiaal en hoogs afbreekbare afvalmaterialgehad asook hoër δ15N. By Jonaskop het huidmondjie geleiding en water gebruik doeltreffendheid nie verskil tussen heuweltjie en omliggende plante nie. Daar was ook geen verskille in blaar N konsentrasies, C/N verhoudings en δ15N tussen heuweltjie en omliggende plante by hierdiestudiearea nie. Plante wat groei in hoë stikstof plotte, het hoër xileem water potensiaal (minder stres) en meer veranderlike stomatal geleiding as die plante wat in die kontrole plotte groei. Die resultate van die studie het getoon dat heuweltjies “skerpkolle” is van voedingstowwe en biogeochemiese siklusse, en gegewe genoeg grondwater, sal ideale areas wees vir die groei van plante. In die Sukkulente Karoodra hoë soutgehalte (en fyner grond teksture) op die heuweltjies by tot water stres gedurende droë tye, en saam met versteurings dra dit by tot grond tot plant kontrole op plantfisiologie, en uiteindelik plant gemeenskapsstruktuur. In die Fynbos word plante op die heuweltjies beperk deur te min voedingstowwe, moontlik omdat daar ʼn toename is in intraspesifieke kompetisie, terwyl hoër reenvalkan lei tot hoër loging van voedingstowwe vanuit die bogrond. Die resultate wat hier gerapporteer word is veral relevant vir restourasieprogramme, en mag lig werp op restourasie trajekte na oorbeweiding, aanplanting van gewasse en mynbou-aktiwiteite.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6467
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