There are countless numbers of trees and shrubs growing in the two million hectares of the Kruger National Park. Just how to best survey this complex vegetation system is the current focus of SANParks scientific services staff based in Skukuza.
Scientific services staff with the assistance of outside expertise from Dr Tony Swemmer from SAEON (South African Environmental Observation Network) and Dr Laurence Kruger and Graeme Ellis from the Organisation for Tropical Studies (OTS), recently spent the day testing out various vegetation survey methods near a site at Renosterkoppies in the Kruger National Park.
Vegetation has long been studied, classified and monitored over the years in the Park, resulting in a detailed and clear understanding of how the trees and plants are arranged and distributed across the different landscapes.
The real difficulty in any conservation management plan is detecting changes in these vegetation patterns over time. As plants and trees are slow growing, these changes may not be clearly visible over the short term. To add to the complexity of the problem, vegetation is affected by a host of factors including rainfall, soil and underlying geology, fire and, of course, the herbivores living in the veld too.
'We are testing three different vegetation survey techniques to see which one will give us the best information on the state of the vegetation at selected sample sites in Kruger' says Judith Kruger, scientific services programme integrator for science support in Skukuza.
'We need to be able to detect changes in the vegetation over time as the loss of certain components such as a specific plant species or trees of a certain height, can have implications for biodiversity on a larger scale' explained Judith.
'Global climate change is predicted to cause changes in both rainfall patterns and climatic conditions, so we need to have an understanding of how these changes will affect the vegetation of the park and potentially all our biodiversity conservation efforts' adds Judith.
Vegetation monitoring is a long-term process and by building on the wealth of data already collected through previous monitoring programmes, scientific services will continue to keep an eye on Kruger's valuable and diverse vegetation.
By Michele Hofmeyr