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African Zoology

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Abundance and guild structure of grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acridoidea) in communally grazed and protected savanna

Lorenzo Prendini, Leon-Jacques Theron, Karen van der Merwe, Norman Owen-Smith

Abstract


This study was conducted to determine how savanna grass sward modifications caused by heavy grazing pressure influenced the abundance and guild structure of grasshoppers. Heavily grazed communal land was compared with a lightly grazed area and a mowed airstrip, in adjacent protected land, in the Mpumalanga lowveld, South Africa. Plant species composition, height, aerial cover and greenness of grass in the herbaceous stratum were measured in representative sites. Total grasshopper abundance and relative abundance of grasshopper species were also assessed in each site. Grasshoppers were assigned to feeding and habitat functional groups for comparison among the three areas. The heavily grazed area, characterised by short vegetation and low aerial cover, high greenness of grass, and high frequency of forbs, was inhabited by grasshopper species associated with bare ground or short and/or sparse grass, that were non-graminivorous or soft grass feeders. The lightly grazed area, characterised by tall vegetation and high aerial cover, low greenness of grass, and low frequency of forbs, was inhabited by grasshopper species associated with long and/or thick grass, that were mixed feeders or tough grass feeders. The mowed area, characterised by short vegetation and low aerial cover, low greenness of grass, and low frequency of forbs, exhibited lower grasshopper abundance, species richness, and diversity than either of the grazed areas.



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