Original Research

Plant community diversity in the Chobe Enclave, Botswana: Insights for functional habitat heterogeneity for herbivores

Pascal Vittoz, Federico Pellacani, Rémy Romanens, Ali Mainga, Eric P. Verrecchia, Richard W.S. Fynn
Koedoe | Vol 62, No 1 | a1604 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v62i1.1604 | © 2020 Pascal Vittoz, Federico Pellacani, Rémy Romanens, Ali Mainga, Eric P. Verrecchia, Richard W.S. Fynn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 October 2019 | Published: 21 October 2020

About the author(s)

Pascal Vittoz, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Federico Pellacani, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Rémy Romanens, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Ali Mainga, Van Thuyne Ridge Research Center, Chobe Enclave, Botswana
Eric P. Verrecchia, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Richard W.S. Fynn, Okavango Research Institute, Maun, Botswana

Abstract

Precise vegetation descriptions and maps are essential tools for the management of natural areas, as well as for understanding animal habitat use. The Chobe Enclave (CE), adjacent to the Chobe National Park and the Chobe Forest Reserve, forms a critical dry season range for many large herbivores. As a tool for future management and studies about wildlife habitat use and migration, this study proposed to describe the plant communities in the CE and to study their relationships with microtopography and soils. Plant species were inventoried in 82 sampling plots (40 x 20 m), covering the vegetation diversity recognised by an unsupervised classification (Landsat images, 30-m resolution). A hierarchical clustering classified the inventories in eight plant communities, mapped with a supervised classification. This study was conducted in parallel with a soil study. Soil variations and degree of flooding largely determine community composition. Floodplains along the Linyanti River and dambos (concentrating local run off from rainfall) provide reliable green forage for wildlife during the dry season. Adjacent to floodplains, riverine forests also maintain green browse and grazing well into the dry season. In drylands, vegetation is largely determined by soil texture. Forests dominated by Baikiaea plurijuga occupy the acidic, red sands in the east, while sandveld vegetation grows on deep sands in paleo-river channels. These habitats support dominant grasses, which provide important forage for grazers during the wet season. Finally, woodlands dominated by Colophospermum mopane, characterised by sodium-rich and alkaline soils, enable herbivores to meet their mineral requirements during reproduction.

Conservation implications: Our soil and vegetation studies provide important insights into factors determining plant communities. Their diversity and close vicinity play a critical role in enabling herbivores to adapt to seasonal variations in forage quantity and quality. Results will enable researchers to gain insights into animal habitat seasonal use in the Chobe Enclave.


Keywords

plant community ecology; vegetation map; soil; water availability; microtopography

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