Original Research

Browser impacts in Mapungubwe National Park, South Africa: Should we be worried?

Corli Coetsee, Benjamin J. Wigley
Koedoe | Vol 58, No 1 | a1347 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v58i1.1347 | © 2016 Corli Coetsee, Benjamin J. Wigley | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 August 2015 | Published: 16 September 2016

About the author(s)

Corli Coetsee, School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; Scientific Services, South African National Parks, South Africa
Benjamin J. Wigley, School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa; Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, India, India


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Abstract

This study explores the impact of browsers on vegetation types within the Mapungubwe National Park and specifically whether rocky outcrops or ridges in the park serve as refugia from browsers, particularly elephants. We sampled 80 transects at 20 sites and recorded 1740 plants comprising 65 species. We found that a high proportion (> 80%) of the woody vegetation sampled indicated browser utilisation. Although certain woody species (e.g. Albizia harveyi, Boscia albitrunca, Lannea schweinfurthii) appeared to be preferred by browsers, browsing levels were relatively high among all woody species. High levels of browsing by herbivores other than elephants suggest that they have a significant impact on the park’s vegetation. We did not find that rocky ridges acted as refugia to browsers, but instead found that vegetation in rocky ridges was more severely impacted by browsers than vegetation in flat areas, despite vegetation being more accessible in flat areas. If elephant numbers continue to increase at the current rate (e.g. elephant numbers doubled between 2007 and 2010), we predict that some of the heavily utilised species will become locally rare over time.

Conservation implications: High levels of browsing by both elephant and smaller herbivores contribute to significant impacts on vegetation away from rivers in Mapungubwe National Park. Without management interventions that address both types of impact, structural and species diversity are bound to decrease over the short to medium term.


Keywords

Commiphora spp.; elephant; refugia; transfrontier conservation area; vegetation change

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