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Impact of sustained drought on a semi‐arid Colophospermum mopane savanna

Impact of sustained drought on a semi‐arid Colophospermum mopane savanna Abstract Vegetation change on different substrate types was measured over 15 years in semi‐arid Mopani Veld. Baseline data were collected in the terminal year (1982) of a decade of above‐average rainfall, whilst the period of monitoring was characterised by below‐average rainfall, with severe drought years occurring in 1988/1989 and 1991/1992. Grazing pressure was, on average, alleviated over the period of recording so that changes reflect primarily the effect of rainfall. Long‐lived perennial grasses had declined markedly, annual and micro‐perennial grasses had increased markedly, and the proportion of forbs had increased. Despite 7–17 years since the replacement of livestock grazing with wildlife at lower stocking rates, there was no evidence of an improvement in sward or soil condition, owing ostensibly to the effect of drought. The extent of change in botanical composition and in sward condition was influenced by substrate type. The rate of growth of the woody component had been slow: the average per annum increase in the radius of trees was 0.67 mm. For the dominant species, Colophospermum mopane, only individuals of less than 1 m in height consistently showed an increase in size. The basal area of dead standing trees had increased threefold. Complete mortality or substantial topkill of shrub species, in particular of Grewia spp., Ximenia americana, and Combretum apiculatum, and of adults of the latter, had occurred owing to drought. Shrub mortality was most pronounced on colluvial soils and sandveld. All species exhibited partial dieback of the crown. Overall, shrub recruitment has been limited except for that of H. mopane on colluvial soils but not on other substrate types, which is therefore likely to increase further its dominance on this substrate at the expense of species richness. Grazing pressure on desirable perennial grasses and browsing pressure on palatable woody plants has probably increased because of their decline, even if animal abundance has not increased, which will have a negative effect on their re‐establishment. Acting in opposition, dieback of trees and shrubs has probably created a window of opportunity for the recovery of perennial grasses, but it would likely require an extended run of above‐average years to reverse the changes in herbaceous vegetation, for which the availability of seed of perennial grasses is likely to be a major constraint. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png African Journal of Range & Forage Science Taylor & Francis

Impact of sustained drought on a semi‐arid Colophospermum mopane savanna

African Journal of Range & Forage Science , Volume 15 (3): 9 – Dec 1, 1998
9 pages

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References (14)

Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Copyright
Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN
1727-9380
eISSN
1022-0119
DOI
10.1080/10220119.1998.9647948
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract Vegetation change on different substrate types was measured over 15 years in semi‐arid Mopani Veld. Baseline data were collected in the terminal year (1982) of a decade of above‐average rainfall, whilst the period of monitoring was characterised by below‐average rainfall, with severe drought years occurring in 1988/1989 and 1991/1992. Grazing pressure was, on average, alleviated over the period of recording so that changes reflect primarily the effect of rainfall. Long‐lived perennial grasses had declined markedly, annual and micro‐perennial grasses had increased markedly, and the proportion of forbs had increased. Despite 7–17 years since the replacement of livestock grazing with wildlife at lower stocking rates, there was no evidence of an improvement in sward or soil condition, owing ostensibly to the effect of drought. The extent of change in botanical composition and in sward condition was influenced by substrate type. The rate of growth of the woody component had been slow: the average per annum increase in the radius of trees was 0.67 mm. For the dominant species, Colophospermum mopane, only individuals of less than 1 m in height consistently showed an increase in size. The basal area of dead standing trees had increased threefold. Complete mortality or substantial topkill of shrub species, in particular of Grewia spp., Ximenia americana, and Combretum apiculatum, and of adults of the latter, had occurred owing to drought. Shrub mortality was most pronounced on colluvial soils and sandveld. All species exhibited partial dieback of the crown. Overall, shrub recruitment has been limited except for that of H. mopane on colluvial soils but not on other substrate types, which is therefore likely to increase further its dominance on this substrate at the expense of species richness. Grazing pressure on desirable perennial grasses and browsing pressure on palatable woody plants has probably increased because of their decline, even if animal abundance has not increased, which will have a negative effect on their re‐establishment. Acting in opposition, dieback of trees and shrubs has probably created a window of opportunity for the recovery of perennial grasses, but it would likely require an extended run of above‐average years to reverse the changes in herbaceous vegetation, for which the availability of seed of perennial grasses is likely to be a major constraint.

Journal

African Journal of Range & Forage ScienceTaylor & Francis

Published: Dec 1, 1998

Keywords: Composition change; mortality; perennial grass; recruitment; vegetation change

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