Original Research

Long-term variability in vegetation productivity in relation to rainfall, herbivory and fire in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

Wataru Tokura, Sam L. Jack, Tania Anderson, Michael T. Hoffman
Koedoe | Vol 60, No 1 | a1473 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v60i1.1473 | © 2018 Wataru Tokura, Sam L. Jack, Tania Anderson, Michael T. Hoffman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 May 2017 | Published: 31 July 2018

About the author(s)

Wataru Tokura, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town; Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Sam L. Jack, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Tania Anderson, Private, Johannesburg, South Africa
Michael T. Hoffman, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

Exploring the long-term influence of climate and land use on vegetation change allows for a more robust understanding of how vegetation is likely to respond in the future. To inform management, this study investigated the relationship between vegetation productivity trends and potential drivers of change in the 110 000 ha of the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve between 2000 and 2015, using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI, MOD13Q1). Spatio-temporal variability of the EVI was mapped and then related to the historical records of precipitation, animal numbers and fire occurrences. Long-term trends in productivity were analysed by residual trend analysis (RESTREND). Significantly different EVI profiles were found between vegetation types, and this was related to the structure and function of the vegetation, as well as the effects of soil reflectance. The EVI time-series signalled spatial and temporal heterogeneity in plant productivity, which was strongly correlated with rainfall, although fire and especially herbivory had noteworthy localised effects on productivity. The RESTREND identified a significant positive trend in plant productivity in shrub-dominated vegetation types, providing evidence for the ongoing thickening of woody species. Significant negative trends in productivity were associated with artificial water points and more heavily stocked areas, leading to degradation.

Conservation implications: The southern Kalahari has a highly variable rainfall regime, which is tied to a dynamic vegetation response. This variability should be taken into account when making management decisions. Field-based monitoring together with adaptive management approaches are needed in the face of an uncertain future in which significant warming is expected.

Keywords

Bush encroachment; Long-term monitoring; MODIS EVI; Remote sensing; RESTREND

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