Long-term impacts of livestock grazing and browsing in the Succulent Karoo: a 20-year study of vegetation change under different grazing regimes in Namaqualand
This study used a fence-line contrast approach to investigate the long-term impact of high grazing pressure on the vegetation at a site in Namaqualand, South Africa. Forty pairs of permanently marked plots were surveyed in 1996, 2006 and 2016. The main objective was to investigate changes in the vegetation structure and species composition between the near-continuously grazed communal rangelands and the relatively lightly grazed commercial rangelands over the 20-year period. The results showed a decline in total vegetation cover in both commercial and communal rangelands in 2016 relative to the two earlier sampling periods. This can be attributed to the low rainfall in 2016 and was due largely to a reduction in annual plant cover, especially on the communal rangeland. Perennial shrub species provide a fodder bank that can be utilised by livestock in times of drought and can buffer short-term deficits in forage supply. However, the annuals that dominate the vegetation of the communal rangeland do not form such fodder banks and consequently do not have the same multi-year buffering capacity as perennial shrubs. This provides the mechanism whereby long-term continuous grazing decreases resilience to rainfall fluctuations and increases livestock variability, thereby promoting non-equilibrium-type dynamics in the system.
Keywords: communal rangelands, dryland degradation, fence-line contrast, herbivory, species richness