Long-term vegetation change (>20 years) in the plains habitat on the Goegap Nature Reserve, Succulent Karoo, South Africa
Because vegetation change in arid ecosystems is slow, long-term data are essential to gain an understanding of how the vegetation responds to short-term, inter-annual variation in rainfall; long-term cyclic rainfall patterns; and grazing pressure. The point intercept method was conducted annually over a period of more than 20 years at five transects in the plains habitat on the Goegap Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Vegetation change was assessed in terms of vegetation cover, species composition, species abundance, growth form composition, range condition and plant diversity. Non-metric multidimensional scaling was used to illustrate the trajectories in floristic data and to determine the strength of the correlations with rainfall and grazing variables. The effects of the high grazing pressure on the plains were apparent in the overall decrease in total plant cover and reductions in the cover of grazingsensitive species over the monitored period. Diversity parameters, of especially the annual component, were strongly related to rainfall. A directional change, which supports the equilibrium concept, was evident in changes in perennial species composition over time. The annual component, however, showed no directional change, but displayed eventdriven, non-equilibrium dynamics by fluctuating in reaction to the timing and quantity of rainfall.
Keywords: diversity, equilibrium/non-equilibrium, rainfall, vegetation dynamics, wildlife