Coastal dune ecology and management in the Eastern Cape

Avis, Anthony Mark (1993) Coastal dune ecology and management in the Eastern Cape. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

The importance of understanding the ecological functioning of coastal dune systems is emphasized as being fundamental to the correct management of the dune landscape. Dune vegetation along the Eastern Cape coastline, from Cape St Francis in the west to Kei Mouth in the east was described in terms of the distribution and phytochorological affinities of the taxa. At a regional scale species distribution was strongly influenced by both the climate, particularly rainfall, and the phytochorological affinities of the taxa. Seven communities were defined using TWINSPAN, and the interrelationships between these communities in anyone area appeared to be linked to a successional gradient. Dune Slacks are thought to play a key role in this successional sequence, and a temporal study of this community led to a conceptual model of plant succession in these dunefields. Climate, particularly rainfall and wind, are major factors influencing plant succession. Wind-borne sand causes the slacks to migrate in an easterly direction under the influence of the predominantly westerly winds, although easterly winds, mainly in summer months may reverse these trends. Autogenic changes appeared to be important in this succession, and a comparative study of a good example of a primary succession at Mtunzini in Natal was undertaken to elucidate the main mechanism of change. Eight communities that were identified here were concluded to be distnbuted along a gradient of increasing age, with successional changes predictable, linear and directional. Species were grouped in distinct zones along the continuum and edaphic changes (decrease in soil pH, increase in organic matter and exchangeable bases) were related to the community based changes in species composition. The mechanism of change supported the facilitation model of plant succession which is a modification of the original Clementsian concept. Similar results were found in the Eastern Cape, but due to the harsh environment, multiple pathways of succession exist. Data from this study lent support to the model of plant succession developed earlier, and confinned that the dune slacks played an important role in this facilitation by acting as centres of diversity. The foredunes were found to have an indirect role in protecting these slacks from salt spray and sand movement. The central theme of the management studies was to investigate the ecological consequences of recreational pressure within the dune environment. Current levels of beach utilization at East London were lower than other beaches in South Africa, but a general trend of increasing utilization due to sociopolitical changes can be expected. The suitability of questionnaire surveys to assess aspects such as the adequacy of facilities, perceptual carrying capacity and the beach users opinion of natural vegetation and preference for particular beaches was demonstrated. The dune vegetation was found to be sensitive to human trampling, but at current levels, the ecological carrying capacity will not be exceeded since results of the aerial census counts and questionnaire survey revealed that few people entered sensitive zones such as the coastal forest. More detailed long term studies on the susceptibility of dune vegetation to both trampling and off-road vehicle impacts revealed a low resilience of dune plant communities to these effects. Although susceptibility differed between the three communities tested, generally the greatest amount of damage occurred after the first few passages, and vehicles caused a more significant decrease in height when compared to trampling. Recovery rates were slow and low levels of repeated damage were sufficient to retard or prevent the recovery of the plants. Stricter control of vehicle use on beaches is therefore required, and in high use zones the ecological carrying capacity should be increased by providing access tracks if possible, or if not possible, by restricting access. A historical account of the process of dune stabilization showed that although first initiated in 1845, indigenous species were only used in the past three decades. The use of alien species has resulted in problems such as a reduction in the ecological integrity and aesthetic appeal of coastal systems. The techniques applied in the stabilization of drift sands with indigenous vegetation have been successful, as revealed by a quantitative survey of 17 sites in the Eastern Cape. Sites were grouped by multivariate analysis on the basis of their species composition, and variability between sites was dependent on the types of species planted. Selection of suitable species is therefore important and is discussed with respect to their natural distribution along the coast. The long term objective of stabilization should be the creation of functional, diverse, aesthetic ecosystems, since the intrinsic and economic value of the dune landscape for tourism lies therein. However, detailed studies should be undertaken prior to implementing a manipulative process such as dune stabilization, since ecological processes may be disrupted. An understanding of such processes is therefore important if one wishes to effectively manage the dune landscape.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ecology, Sand dune, Plants, Management, Cape St. Francis, Kei River mouth, Mtunzini, Natal, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Climate, Rainfall, Phytochorological affinities, Taxa, Dune slacks, Recreational pressure, Vehicles, Tourism, Stabilization
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QK Botany
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Botany
Supervisors:Lubke, Roy
ID Code:4133
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:26 Nov 2012 12:19
Last Modified:26 Nov 2012 12:19
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