How to monitor the degradation of the landscape and vegetation has been a question intriguing ecologists over the years. Having an idea of the how functional and healthy the soil condition is, is vital in any management decisionmaking process.
Professor David Tongway, a landscape ecologist from Australia, has researched methods of estimating landscape function in a practical and economical way and several Kruger National Park (KNP) and Agricultural Research Council (ARC) scientists and researchers benefited from his knowledge and experience when he recently visited the Park.
There was considerable interest from South African ecologists to adapt his approach to South African conditions. Prof Tongway demonstrated his landscape function analysis (LFA) technique, which uses a line transect along the direction of water flow, usually down a hill slope.
Along this line, measurements of soil parameters are taken to give an indication of soil stability, nutrient cycling status and water infiltration and runoff. The method allows for a comprehensive, yet quick assessment of soil condition within the various landscapes. This method also gives an indication of nutrient cycling, how easily water can penetrate the soil surface and how erodable the soil is.
Although there is currently a detailed vegetation monitoring programme in Kruger and areas to the west of KNP (ARC programme), this method uses the soils as a basis for monitoring, which will show how this precious resource is being affected over time by erosion, wind movements and rainfall.
This universal procedure is a quick and easily repeatable method of landscape monitoring and should be employed in conjunction with the vegetation monitoring. The LFA technique is currently being assessed by two students monitoring the effects of waterpoints on herbivores and vegetation in the area.
This is as a follow up to the work done in the early 2000's by the ARC-RFI team. Katherine Matchett from UKZN (University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal) is looking at recovery rates in the landscape around previously closed water points along a north - south gradient in Kruger and adjacent areas to the west of KNP.
Research by Helen Farmer will focus on the density of water points along an east-west gradient across the park, from a number of private nature reserves to the west of KNP where a high density of waterpoints exists across to Mozambique in the east, where the distribution of water points is virtually zero. Prof Tongway, also a research fellow of the CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, has successfully used this method in Australia with the rehabilitation of old mining areas and degraded farmland.
By Michele Hofmeyr
In Kruger National Park