Original Research - Special Collection: Granite catena ecosystem

Vegetation structure and spatial heterogeneity in the Granite Supersite, Kruger National Park

Beanelri B. Janecke
Koedoe | Vol 62, No 2 | a1591 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v62i2.1591 | © 2020 Beanelri B. Janecke | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 September 2019 | Published: 29 October 2020

About the author(s)

Beanelri B. Janecke, Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


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Abstract

Spatial heterogeneity is the unequal distribution of landscape features and consists of diversity in vegetation structure, number and size of woody plants, patchiness in grass cover, sub-canopy habitats, etc. A granite catena (hillslope) comprises of a gradient of soils, hydrology patterns and vegetation composition, creating a spatially heterogeneous area with variety in animal habitats. Objectives were to determine small-scale spatial heterogeneity along a catena near Skukuza, such as vegetation structure, patchiness, size and cover of woody and grass components, to describe certain catenal processes. Tree sizes and canopy cover were measured and the point method used on seven 100 m transects representing different catenal zones. Grasses were categorised according to grazing value, ecological status and percentage shade tolerant grasses. A total of 155 tree canopies were present. Large trees (> 5 m) occurred in riparian zone and upper midslope, but were low in number (< 4 per transect). Woody plants ranged in number from 8 to 32, canopy cover 4.5% – 33.6%, and grass cover from 47% to 69% between zones. A strong correlation was found between canopy cover and shade-tolerant grasses. Size of sub-canopy habitats are mostly determined by size of woody plants and both are important to animals. Various factors related to vegetation contributed to heterogeneity and spatial stratification patterns of the catena ecosystem.

Conservation implications: Concerns about the decline in tree numbers inside Kruger National Park are addressed. Mammal habitats and plant communities are impacted by the decline. The research can be linked to the long-term exclosure studies on granites at Nkuhlu.


Keywords

Big trees; Drought; Grazers and browsers; Savanna; Sodic grazing lawn

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