Vegetation responses to seasonal weather conditions and decreasing grazing pressure in the arid Succulent Karoo of South Africa
The Succulent Karoo biome is a renowned centre of biodiversity and endemism in the arid winter rainfall region of South Africa that is threatened by climate change. On 20 permanently marked plots within a biodiversity observatory, species richness and cover were assessed annually from 2002 to 2017 during the growing season. We were interested, firstly, in whether the vegetation showed any trends in response to the strong decrease in grazing pressure, which occurred at the beginning of the monitoring period, and secondly, in the effect of seasonal climate on the vegetation. We analysed the responses of species richness and cover in four life forms to seasonal rainfall and the standardised precipitation–evapotranspiration index (SPEI) using linear mixed-effect models. Time had a positive effect on richness of annual species and a negative effect on cover of shrubs and annuals, which increased in response to SPEI and less strongly to rainfall during autumn and winter. Habitat did not have any effect and geophytes and perennial herbs did not show any significant response. The importance of SPEI during autumn and winter is discussed in relation to potential germination cues and the projected decrease in rainfall and increase in temperature during these seasons.
Keywords: biodiversity observatory, Namaqualand, rainfall, SPEI, standardised precipitation–evapotranspiration index, vegetation change