Transformation of a savanna grassland by drought and grazing

  • TG O'Connor
Keywords: basal cover, botany, disequilibrium, drought, floristic composition, Gazankulu, grassland, grazing, life history, population dynamics, population structure, savanna, South Africa, transformation


The relative effects of drought and heavy grazing on the floristic composition, population size and and structure, and basal cover of an African savanna grassland were differentiated by comparing changes over eight years over eight years, which included a severe drought year, across a gradient of grazing history. Drought had an overriding effect on community change, but grazing history had an additional effect. Severe drought in combination with a history of severe grazing transformed grassland of predominantly palatable, perennial grasses (Themeda triandra, Setaria incrassata, Heteropogon contortus) to grassland dominated by the unpalatable perennial Aristida bipartita, annual grasses and forbs. Palatable species were almost eliminatedfrom the sward between tree canopies, but residual populations were protected beneath certain woody species. The most lightly grazed grassland maintained its character of platable, perennial grass species, but was changed considerably in the relative proportion of these species. After the drought, tuft size of palatable species was smaller than any previously recorded but recovered thereafter. A numbr of annual and perennial grass species were recorded for the first time subsequent to the drought. Consideration of the life history attributes of species was useful for predicting species' responses. Grazing management during drought episodeswould seem critical for determining the direction of community change. The notion that savanna grasslands are insensitive to grazing because of their disequilibrium behaviour was rejected.

Keywords: basal cover; botany; disequilibrium; drought; floristic composition; Gazankulu; grassland; grazing; life history; population dynamics; population structure; savanna; South Africa; transformation

African Journal of Range and Forage Science 1995, 12(2): 53–60

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9380
print ISSN: 1022-0119