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Du Toit, Justin Christopher Okes.

Drivers of vegetation change in the eastern Karoo.

Du Toit, Justin Christopher Okes.

Titre : Drivers of vegetation change in the eastern Karoo.

Auteur : Du Toit, Justin Christopher Okes.

Université de soutenance : University of KwaZulu-Natal

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy 2019

Résumé partiel
The Nama-Karoo Biome occupies much of the western central region of South Africa and transitions into the Grassland Biome along its eastern boundary along a gradual ecotone. The area is characterised by hot summers and long, frosty winters, relatively low rainfall, peaking in mid- to late-summer, with high inter-annual variability, and botanically by a co-existence of grasses and dwarf shrubs, with grass abundance positively related to average annual rainfall that increases from west to east. Biome shifts in response to changes in rainfall pattern and grazing have been suggested but never directly examined. Major drivers of botanical composition are rainfall and grazing by livestock. Fire is rare, occurring sporadically if high rainfall allows for good grass growth. This thesis focused on understanding the influence of rainfall, grazing, low temperatures, and fire on botanical composition at Grootfontein, a site in the ecotone between the Nama-Karoo and Grassland Biomes that is home to grazing trials up to 85 years old. The following specific questions were addressed : Question 1 : Over the long term, has Grootfontein shown patterns of rainfall cyclicity or experienced directional change, and how might these have influenced composition and productivity ? Using data from 1888 to 2012, cyclicity in rainfall was evident for periods of approximately 20 and 60 years. Rainfall has also consistently increased since the mid-1970s, and this increase corresponds with a general pattern of increased grassiness in the eastern Karoo. Question 2 : How do rainfall and grazing, alone and in interaction, influence vegetation composition in the eastern Karoo ? Compositional data from the 1960s and 2010s from various treatments at two sites at Grootfontein (Camp 6 and Seligman grazing trials) show a shift from dwarf-shrub- to grass-dominated vegetation, consistent with the increased rainfall over that time. An influence of grazing, both present and historical, was evident but secondary to the effect of rainfall. In some cases, there has been a shift to grassland. Data from the Camp 6 and Seligman grazing trials from the 1940s to the 1960s further indicate a combined influence of season of grazing and of rainfall. High-intensity summer-only grazing by livestock largely extirpates grasses and allows shrubs to thrive, while summer grazing in the form of rotational grazing or continuous grazing allow for a balance of grasses and dwarf-shrubs. Severe declines in both grasses and shrubs occurred apparently in response to drought, though the exact conditions required to cause such mortality remain unclear. Plant cover data from 2008 to 2015 from the Boesmanskop grazing trial showed that consecutive years of exceptionally high rainfall increased plant cover to nearly 100%, and increased the abundance of grasses.


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