Impact of Prosopis (mesquite) invasion and clearing on vegetation species composition and diversity in semi-arid Nama-Karoo rangeland, South Africa
The Nama-Karoo biome occupies 28% of South Africa’s land area. Alien leguminous trees of the genus Prosopis have invaded large tracts of Nama-Karoo rangeland. We evaluated the impact of Prosopis invasion and clearing on vegetation species composition and diversity (alien and indigenous species richness and cover) in Nama-Karoo rangeland on two sheep farms in the Beaufort West district of the Western Cape province of South Africa. Our results suggest that Prosopis invasion and clearing can significantly change Nama-Karoo rangeland species composition. Invasion and clearing appear to have no effect on alien species richness. Invasion, however, increases alien species cover, while clearing restores it to pre-invasion levels. In contrast, invasion reduces indigenous species richness while clearing restores it to pre-invasion levels. Invasion appears to have no effect on indigenous species cover. This lack of effect appears to be the serendipitous result of a site-specific trade-off between a decline in cover of grasses that are negatively affected by Prosopis invasion and a concomitant increase in the cover of positively affected grasses. Clearing increases indigenous species cover to above pre-invasion levels. The higher than usual indigenous species cover after clearing could be a transient legacy of Prosopis soil nutrient enrichment.
Keywords: invasive plants – exotic, Nama-Karoo, plant community ecology, rehabilitation, semi-arid