Original Research

Exploring an extensive dataset to establish woody vegetation cover and composition in Kruger National Park for the late 1980s

Gregory A. Kiker, Rheinhardt Scholtz, Izak P.J. Smit, Freek J. Venter
Koedoe | Vol 56, No 1 | a1200 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v56i1.1200 | © 2014 Gregory A. Kiker, Rheinhardt Scholtz, Izak P.J. Smit, Freek J. Venter | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 August 2013 | Published: 08 September 2014

About the author(s)

Gregory A. Kiker, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida, United States of America; School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Rheinhardt Scholtz, Scientific Services, South African National Parks, South Africa; School of Life Sciences, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
Izak P.J. Smit, Scientific Services, South African National Parks, South Africa
Freek J. Venter, Conservation Services, South African National Parks, Kruger National Park, South Africa


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Abstract

Woody plant cover and species composition play an important role in defining the type and function of savanna ecosystems. Approximately 2000 sites in the Kruger National Park (KNP) were surveyed by F.J. Venter over a period from 1985 to 1989, recording vegetation, soil and topological characteristics. At each of these sites (approximately 20 m × 20 m each), woody vegetation cover and species were recorded using a rapid, Braun-Blanquet classification for three height classes: shrub (0.75 m – 2.50 m), brush (2.50 m – 5.50 m) and tree (> 5.50 m). The objective of this study was to re-analyse the vegetation component of the field data, with a specific focus to provide a spatially explicit, height-differentiated, benchmark dataset in terms of species occurrence, species richness and structural canopy cover. Overall, 145 different woody species were recorded in the dataset out of the 458 species documented to occur in the park. The dataset describes a woody layer dominated by a relatively small number of widely occurring species, as 24 of the most common woody species accounted for all woody species found on over 80% of all sites. The less common woody species (101) were each recorded on 20 sites or less. Species richness varied from 12 to 1 species per site. Structural canopy cover averaged 9.34%, 8.16% and 2.89% for shrub, brush and tree cover, respectively. The dataset provides a useful benchmark for woody species distribution in KNP and can be used to explore woody species and height class distributions, as well as comparison with more recent or future woody vegetation surveys.

Conservation implications: The results provided evidence that large-scale, woody vegetation surveys conducted along roads offer useful ecosystem level information. However, such an approach fails to pick up less common species. The data presented here provided a useful snapshot of KNP woody vegetation structure and composition and could provide excellent opportunities for spatio-temporal comparisons.


Keywords

Woody plant distribution; Canopy cover; Kruger Park; Species Richness

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