Growth in three Karoo shrub species under various grazing treatments: the tracking of marked individuals over 25 years
Growth studies of long-lived shrubs are uncommon. In semi-arid rangelands, livestock and wildlife grazing influence growth processes and may interact with changing climate. Tierberg-LTER, excluded from livestock since 1987, and two adjacent ranches allowed for a comparative growth study of three shrub species (Osteospermum sinuatum – palatable, Pteronia empetrifolia – moderately palatable, and P. pallens – unpalatable) across contrasting present ungulate herbivory (none in exclosures, wildlife only, or livestock and wildlife combined) and past livestock herbivory (moderate and overgrazed). Marked individuals were measured at irregular intervals over 25 years. Stem basal diameter (mm), height (m) and two canopy diameters (m) were measured at the onset of the study and in 2014. Mean basal diameter growth (mm y−1) varied between species and treatments. Change in mean attribute values was influenced by interactions with grazing history and treatments. Some historical and grazing treatments had a negative effect on the palatable O. sinuatum and no significant effect on moderately palatable P. empetrifolia or unpalatable P. pallens. The age of the originally marked individuals are unknown but >70% of these individuals survived over the 25-year period. Our results support previous findings that dwarf shrubs in deserts are slow growing and long lived, and that grazing regime affects plant growth.
Keywords: basal diameter, canopy area, exclosures, grazing, height