Contrasting biodiversity values in four states of Eastern Province thornveld

Duncan, Imogen May (2010) Contrasting biodiversity values in four states of Eastern Province thornveld. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

Land use and land transformation are major threats to biodiversity. Only a small percentage of land and thus biodiversity is protected within reserves. The majority of biodiversity lies in the hands of private and communal farmers and in order to protect biodiversity they must perceive it as having some value and have the means and incentive to conserve it. This study examined two things: (i) the relationship between biodiversity and measures of ecosystem health, range condition, primary production and presence of useful plants that would be expected to be of relevant use to land users, (ii) the perceptions of farmers of vegetation states that differ in the abovementioned attributes. Within the Eastern Province Thornveld of the Smaldeel area, four different vegetation states were selected for the study, namely park-like grassland with scattered Acacia karroo (“savanna”), heavily infested Acacia karroo grassland (“acacia”), thicket-grassland mosaic (“thicket”) and heavily utilised thicketgrassland in communal lands (“communal”). The four states are a consequence of different patterns of browsing and fire, in both pre-colonial and recent times. Different ecological attributes were assessed and compared for each state and the relationships between the different attributes determined. Ecosystem health, in terms of stability or resistance to erosion, infiltration/water-holding capacity, and nutrient cycling were compared using Landscape Function Analysis. The agricultural value of the different landscapes was measured using range condition assessment techniques. Plant species richness and other measures of diversity, along with their conservation and usefulness values, were compared between states. Plant productivity and biomass were compared using satellite data. The thicket state was found to be the most functional due to the added habitat complexity provided by the vegetation. It was the most biodiverse, the most useful and contained many, but not all of the important conservation species. The communal state had high biodiversity and was be fairly resilient to heavy usage, not showing the expected signs of land degradation. The savanna state, although thought of as the optimum state for cattle production, was not significantly different from the other states in terms of agricultural potential, but had the lowest values for plant diversity, browse potential, abundance of useful plant species and biomass. The acacia state had the highest and least stable values in terms of biomass production, however it was found to contain species of conservation importance. The preference that four groups of land users, namely men and women from commercial and communal farming areas, expressed for the four vegetation states was assessed using semi-structured interviews in conjunction with A3 colour photographs. The men and women from the communal areas and the men from the commercial areas valued the thicket state highly for its farming potential. The male commercial farmers also valued the savanna state highly as they perceived it as being most productive for cattle farming. Both the thicket state and the savanna state were found aesthetically pleasing by all the user groups, in line with theories of preference for modified savannas and for familiar environments. There appears to be potential for preserving biodiversity on farmland. The farmers in this study, with their very utilitarian perspective, were found to intuitively gauge the health of the landscape and recognise biodiversity as indicating good farming land. The commercial farmers were strongly influenced by economic motives and thus attracted to the savanna state, but also recognised the opportunity for a wider variety of farming activities in the thicket state. The communal farmers have a high dependence on the land for their livelihoods and preferred the thicket state for its overall usefulness. The views of the farmers indicate that the opportunity for conservation is good, however much of the thicket state lies in the communal land, where the openaccess land use system makes managing for biodiversity difficult.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Biodiversity, South Africa, Eastern Cape, Agrobiodiversity, Agricultural ecology, Veld, Landscape assessment
Subjects:Q Science > QK Botany
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Botany
ID Code:2074
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:10 Oct 2011 07:35
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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