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Universität Potsdam (2007)

The impact of overgrazing on reptile diversity and population dynamics of Pedioplanis l. lineoocellata in the southern Kalahari, South Africa

Wasiolka, Bernd

Titre : The impact of overgrazing on reptile diversity and population dynamics of Pedioplanis l. lineoocellata in the southern Kalahari, South Africa

Auteur : Wasiolka, Bernd

Université de soutenance : Universität Potsdam

Grade : Doctor rerum naturalium (Dr. rer. nat.) 2007

In semi-arid savannah ecosystems, the vegetation structure and composition, i.e. the architecture of trees, shrubs, grass tussocks and herbaceous plants, offer a great variety of habitats and niches to sustain animal diversity. In the last decades intensive human land use practises like livestock farming have altered the vegetation in savannah ecosystems worldwide. Extensive grazing leads to a reduction of the perennial and herbaceous vegetation cover, which results in an increased availability of bare soil. Both, the missing competition with perennial grasses and the increase of bare soils favour shrub on open ground and lead to area-wide shrub encroachment. As a consequence of the altered vegetation structure and composition, the structural diversity declines. It has been shown that with decreasing structural diversity animal diversity decline across a variety of taxa. Knowledge on the effects of overgrazing on reptiles, which are an important part of the ecosystem, are missing. Furthermore, the impact of habitat degradation on factors of a species population dynamic and life history, e.g., birth rate, survival rate, predation risk, space requirements or behavioural adaptations are poorly known. Therefore, I investigated the impact of overgrazing on the reptile community in the southern Kalahari. Secondly I analysed population dynamics and the behaviour of the Spotted Sand Lizard, Pedioplanis l. lineoocellata. All four chapters clearly demonstrate that habitat degradation caused by overgrazing had a severe negative impact upon (i) the reptile community as a whole and (ii) on population parameters of Pedioplanis l. lineoocellata. Chapter one showed a significant decline of regional reptile diversity and abundance in degraded habitats. In chapter two I demonstrated that P. lineoocellata moves more frequently, spends more time moving and covers larger distances in degraded than in non-degraded habitats. In addition, home range size of the lizard species increases in degraded habitats as shown by chapter three. Finally, chapter four showed the negative impacts of overgrazing on several population parameters of P. lineoocellata. Absolute population size of adult and juvenile lizards, survival rate and birth rate are significantly lower in degraded habitats. Furthermore, the predation risk was greatly increased in degraded habitats. A combination of a variety of aspects can explain the negative impact of habitat degradation on reptiles. First, reduced prey availability negatively affects survival rate, the birth rate and overall abundance. Second, the loss of perennial plant cover leads to a loss of niches and to a reduction of opportunities to thermoregulate. Furthermore, a loss of cover and is associated with increased predation risk. A major finding of my thesis is that the lizard P. lineoocellata can alter its foraging strategy. Species that are able to adapt and change behaviour, such as P. lineoocellata can effectively buffer against changes in their environment. Furthermore, perennial grass cover can be seen as a crucial ecological component of the vegetation in the semi-arid savannah system of the southern Kalahari. If perennial grass cover is reduced to a certain degree reptile diversity will decline and most other aspects of reptile life history will be negatively influenced. Savannah systems are characterised by a mixture of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses. These three vegetation components determine the composition and structure of the vegetation and accordingly influence the faunal diversity. Trees are viewed as keystone structures and focal points of animal activity for a variety of species. Trees supply animals with shelter, shade and food and act as safe sites, nesting sites, observation posts and foraging sites. Recent research demonstrates a positive influence of shrub patches on animal diversity. Moreover, it would seem that intermediate shrub cover can also sustain viable populations in savannah landscapes as has been demonstrated for small carnivores and rodent species. The influence of perennial grasses on faunal diversity did not receive the same attention as the influence of trees and shrubs. In my thesis I didn’t explicitly measure the direct effects of perennial grasses but my results strongly imply that it has an important role. If the perennial grass cover is significantly depleted my results suggest it will negatively influence reptile diversity and abundance and on several populations parameters of P. lineoocellata. Perennial grass cover is associated with the highest prey abundance, reptile diversity and reptile abundance. It provides reptiles both a refuge from predators and opportunities to optimise thermoregulation. The relevance of each of the three vegetation structural elements is different for each taxa and species. In conclusion, I can all three major vegetation structures in the savannah system are important for faunal moreshow less

Mots clés : Shrub encroachment, overgrazing, biodiversity, reptiles


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Page publiée le 16 octobre 2008, mise à jour le 1er décembre 2018