Original Research

Influence of herbivores and trees on soil biochemical properties of a semi-arid savanna

Siviwe O. Malongweni, Johan van Tol
Koedoe | Vol 65, No 1 | a1742 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v65i1.1742 | © 2023 Siviwe O. Malongweni, Johan van Tol | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 November 2022 | Published: 28 November 2023

About the author(s)

Siviwe O. Malongweni, Department of Soil, Crop, and Climate Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Johan van Tol, Department of Soil, Crop, and Climate Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Abstract

The study evaluates the interactive effects of mammalian herbivores and trees on soil biochemical properties of a semi-arid savanna ecosystem in South Africa. Composite soil samples were collected at three radial distances from a tree base, namely besides the tree trunk, canopy edge, and outside canopy, for two trees (Combretum apiculatum and Grewia bicolor), in the full exclosure and open access area in the Nkuhlu exclosures of Kruger National Park. We measured total nitrogen (TN), total carbon (TC), pH, available phosphorus (P), microbial activity, exchangeable cations (calcium [Ca2+], magnesium [Mg2+], sodium [Na+] and potassium [K+]) and cation exchange capacity (CEC). Result indicates that pH and Mg2+ in full exclosure were significantly higher than outside, whereas TN, TC, available P, microbial activity, K+ and CEC were lower. Under canopy samples had more pH, TN, TC, available P, K+ and Ca2+ than those collected from other sampling zones, mainly because of the effect of litter accumulation under the tree canopies. With the exceptions of CEC and microbial activity, the effects of the two tree species on soil nutrients were similar. Microbial activity was significantly high, whereas CEC was low under G. bicolor than C. apiculatum. The canopy edge of G. bicolor had the highest microbial activity, while the area outside the canopy of C. apiculatum had the lowest than all the other treatments. These results indicate that the presence of herbivores and woody species differentially affects the spatial distribution of the various nutrients, soil microbiota and other chemical properties depending on their radial distances from the tree base.

Conservation implications: It is ecologically unwise to completely eliminate trees and herbivores from savanna ecosystems, as they help to maintain soil fertility and biodiversity.


Keywords

Combretum apiculatum; exclosure; grazing; Grewia bicolor; herbivores; Kruger National Park; soil properties; tree canopy.

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