Original Research

Ecology of palustrine wetlands in Lesotho: Vegetation classification, description and environmental factors

Peter Chatanga, Erwin J.J. Sieben
Koedoe | Vol 61, No 1 | a1574 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v61i1.1574 | © 2019 Peter Chatanga, Erwin J.J. Sieben | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 April 2019 | Published: 31 October 2019

About the author(s)

Peter Chatanga, School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville, Durban, South Africa; and, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science and Technology, National University of Lesotho, Roma, Lesotho
Erwin J.J. Sieben, School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville, Durban, South Africa


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Abstract

The description and classification of wetland vegetation is important for water resource management and biodiversity conservation as it provides an understanding of the wetland vegetation–environment relationships and information to interpret spatial variation in plant communities. This study discusses the vegetation of the palustrine wetlands of Lesotho based on a phytosociological approach. Data on vegetation and various environmental variables were collected using the Braun-Blanquet method and a standardised protocol developed for environmental information of wetlands in South Africa. The data were analysed mainly by clustering and ordination techniques. Twenty-two communities were found by the classification of the wetland vegetation. These communities were found to be diverse in terms of species richness. The ordination revealed that the wetland vegetation is mainly influenced by altitude, longitude, slope, soil parent material, landscape, inundation, potassium content, soil texture, total organic carbon, nitrogen, electrical conductivity and latitude. Regarding species composition and diversity, plant communities in the Highlands were more diverse and were distinctively different from those in the Lowlands. High-altitude communities were also found to be dominated mainly by C3 plants, while those at low altitudes exhibited the dominance of C4 species. Some communities were either restricted to the Highlands or Lowlands but others exhibited a wide ecological amplitude and occurred over an extensive altitudinal range. The diversity of most of the wetlands, coupled with their restricted habitat, distribution at high altitudes and their role in supplying ecosystem services that include water resources, highlights the high conservation value associated with these wetlands, particularly in the face of climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Conservation implications: The study can be invaluable to wetland scientists, managers, biodiversity conservationists, water resource managers and planners and vegetation ecologists in Southern Africa. About 70% of Lesotho falls in the Maloti-Drakensberg, accounting for about 60% of the region, and this makes the study important in biodiversity conservation planning, particularly in the Highlands. The wetlands in Lesotho face severe anthropogenic pressures that include overgrazing and economic development. Given that the Lesotho Highlands as a water catchment is not only important for Lesotho, but also for South Africa and Namibia, the conservation of the associated wetlands and this critical water resource is indispensable.


Keywords

anthropogenic; biodiversity conservation; canonical ordination; climate change; Maloti-Drakensberg; plant community; palustrine wetlands; phytosociology; vegetation classification

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