Patterns of development and succession of vegetated hummocks in slacks of the Alexandria coastal dune field, South Africa
Dune hummocks (small aeolian dunes formed by sand deposition in and around pioneer plants) are the smallest vegetated dune unit; they occur along the entire South African coastline but are poorly studied. Structural properties and distribution of the two main hummock-forming plants:Arctotheca populifolia (a pioneer species with fast growth rate and rapid turnover) andGazania rigens (a later colonizer with slower growth) were investigated. A marked vegetation succession exists across the floor of the slack as a result of the migration of transverse dune ridges across the slack.Arctotheca hummocks were initiated on the newly exposed eastern margin of the slack, and were replaced about midway across the width of the slack byGazania hummocks. Hummocks increased in size with distance from the eastern side of the slack.Gazania hummocks attain a greater vegetation height, support a greater vegetation complexity and mass, and attain a larger maximum size thanArctotheca hummocks. Succession, defined as both the replacement of plant species as well as site modification within the plants over time, was evident. Since the growth form and dynamics determine (1) the ability of plants to trap wind-borne soil and detritus, (2) the shape of the hummocks, and (3) the habitat complexity available to spiders and insects, the ecology of the hummocks is probably determined largely by the vegetation characteristics of the hummock-forming plants.