, Volume 115, Issue 2, pp 157–167 | Cite as

Community structure and species composition along a disturbance gradient in a communally managed South African savanna

  • C. M. Shackleton
  • N. J. Griffin
  • D. I. Banks
  • J. M. Mavrandonis
  • S. E. Shackleton


The woody and herbaceous vegetation was investigated around four rural settlements in the savanna area of the eastern Transvaal Lowveld, South Africa. At each settlement three transects radiating out from the settlement, representing a gradient from high to low disturbance, were sampled for community structure and species composition. In general, attributes of woody community structure (density, height, biomass, basal area and diversity) were negatively related to increasing disturbance. Herbaceous cover responded positively. Although individual woody species exhibited a range of responses to disturbance, overall species compositional changes were not related directly to the intensity of disturbance. Individual woody species were classified into behavioural species response groups according to their response along the disturbance gradient. Local wood harvesters demonstrated marked selection for particular species and size classes, which should have disproportional impacts on community structure. However, proportional size class distributions were little altered along the gradient.

Key words

Biomass Communal Density Harvesting Richness Selection 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Acocks, J. P. H. 1988. Veldtypes of South Africa (3rd ed.). Mem. Bot. Surv. sth. Afr. 57.Google Scholar
  2. Armesto, J. J. & Pickett, S. T. A. 1985. Experiments on disturbance in old-field plant communities: impact on species richness and abundance. Ecol. 66: 230–240.Google Scholar
  3. Childes, S. L. & Walker, B. H. 1987. Ecology and dynamics of the woody vegetation on the Kalahari Sands in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Vegetatio 72: 111–128.Google Scholar
  4. Dean, W. R. J. & Milton, S. J. 1991. Disturbance in semi-arid shrubland and arid grassland in the Karoo, South Africa: mammal diggings as germination sites. Afr. J. Ecol. 29: 11–16.Google Scholar
  5. Denslow, J. S. 1980. Patterns of species diversity during succession under different disturbance regimes. Oecologia 46: 18–21.Google Scholar
  6. Ellis, J. E. & Swift, D. M. 1988. Stability of African pastoral ecosystems: alternate paradigms and implications for development. J Range Managem. 41: 450–459.Google Scholar
  7. Gibbs Russell, G. E. & Staff of the National Herbarium 1985. List of species of southern African plants. Part 1 (2nd ed.). Mem. Bot. Surv. S. Afr. 51., Government Printer, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  8. Gibbs Russell, G. E. & Staff of the National Herbarium 1987. List of species of southern African Plants. Part 2 (2nd ed.). Mem. Bot. Surv. S. Afr. 51., Government Printer, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  9. Griffin, N. J., Banks, D. I., Mavrandonis, J., Shackleton, C. M. & Shackleton, S. E. 1992. Household energy and wood use in a peripheral rural area of the eastern Transvaal Lowveld. Dept of Mineral and Energy Affairs, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  10. Griffin, N. J., Banks, D. I., Mavrandonis, J., Shackleton, C. M. & Shackleton, S. E. 1993. Energy use in six rural villages in Gazankulu. J. Energy Res. & Dev. 4: 68–73.Google Scholar
  11. Grime, J. P. 1977. Plant strategies and vegetation processes. Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Grundy, I. M., Campbell, B. M., Balenereho, S., Culiffe, R., Tafangenyasha, C., Fergusson, R. & Parry, D. 1993. Availability and use of trees in Mutanda resettlement area, Zimbabwe. For. Ecol. Managem. 56: 243–266.Google Scholar
  13. Harper, J. L. 1977. Population biology of plants. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  14. Harrison, Y. 1993. Herbaceous recovery of communal grasslands after removal of high continuous grazing pressure. Unpubl. M. Sc. dissertation, Univ. of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  15. Hatton, J. C. & Smart, N. O. E. 1984. The effect of long-term exclusion of large herbivores on soil nutrient status in Murchison Falls National park, Uganda. Afr. J. Ecol. 22: 23–30.Google Scholar
  16. Hill, M. O. 1979. DECORANA-A Fortran program for detrended correspondence analysis and reciprocal averaging. Section for Ecology & Systematics, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  17. Infraplan 1987. Regional report for Mhala district. Infraplan, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  18. Kellman, M. & Roulet, N. 1990. Nutrient flux and retention in a tropical sand-dune succession. J. Ecol. 78: 664–676.Google Scholar
  19. Mentis, M. T. 1982. A simulation of the grazing of sour grassland. Unpubl. PhD thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.Google Scholar
  20. Mladenoff, D. J. 1987. Dynamics of nitrogen mineralisation and nitrification in hemlock and hardwood treefall gaps. Ecol. 68: 1171–1180.Google Scholar
  21. Parsons, D. A. B. 1991. Vegetation condition, stocking rate and carrying capacities of ecologically similar areas in the eastern Transvaal Lowveld. Unpubl. Honours dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  22. Pandey, A. N. & Singh, J. S. 1985. Mechanism of ecosystem recovery: a case study from Kumaun Himalaya. Recreat. & Reveget. Res. 3: 271–292.Google Scholar
  23. Pellew, R. A. 1983. The giraffe and its food resource in the Serengeti. I. Composition, biomass and production of available browse. Afr. J. Ecol. 21: 241–267.Google Scholar
  24. Petrides, G. A. 1975. Principal foods versus preferred foods and their relations to stocking rate and range condition. Biol. Cons. 7: 161–169.Google Scholar
  25. Rao, P., Barik, S. K., Pandey, H. N. & Tripathi, R. S. 1990. Community composition and tree population structure in a sub-tropical broad-leaved forest along a disturbance gradient. Vegetatio 88: 151–162.Google Scholar
  26. Rutherford, M. C. 1979. Aboveground biomass subdivisions in woody species of the savanna ecosystem project study area, Nylsvley. S. Afr. Nat. Sci. Prog. rep. no. 36. CSIR, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  27. San Jose, J. J. & Farinas, M. R. 1983. Changes in tree density and species composition in a protected Trachypogon savanna, Venezuela. Ecol. 64: 447–453.Google Scholar
  28. Scholes, R. J. 1990. The regrowth of Colophospermum mopane following clearing. J. Grassl. Soc. sth. Afr. 7: 147–151.Google Scholar
  29. Shackleton, C. M. 1993a. Fuelwood harvesting and sustainable utilisation in a communal grazing land and a protected area of the eastern Transvaal Lowveld. Biol. Cons. 63: 247–254.Google Scholar
  30. Shackleton, C. M. 1993b. Are the communal lands in need of saving? Dev. sth. Afr. 10: 65–78.Google Scholar
  31. Skarpe, C. 1990. Structure of the woody vegetation in disturbed and undisturbed arid savanna, Botswana. Vegetatio 87: 11–18.Google Scholar
  32. Sousa, W. P. 1984. The role of disturbance in natural communities. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 15: 353–391.Google Scholar
  33. Sprugel, D. G. 1991. Disturbance, equilibrium, and environmental variability: what is ‘natural’ vegetation in a changing environment? Biol. Conserv. 58: 1–18.Google Scholar
  34. Strang, R. M. 1974. Some man-made changes in successional trends on the Rhodesian Highveld. J. Appl. Ecol. 11: 249–263.Google Scholar
  35. Teague, W. R. & Smit, G. N. 1992. Relations between woody and herbaceous components and the effects of bush-clearing in southern African savannas. J. Grassl. Soc. sth. Afr. 9: 60–71.Google Scholar
  36. Tolsma, D. J., Ernst, W. H. O. & Verwey, R. A. 1987. Nutrients in soil and vegetation around two artificial waterpoints in eastern Botswana. J Appl. Ecol. 24: 991–1000.Google Scholar
  37. Veenendaal, E. M. 1991. Adaptive strategies of grasses in a semi-arid savanna in Botswana. Published PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  38. Watson, H. K. & MacDonald, A. W. 1983. Vegetation changes in the Hluhluwe-Unfolozi Game Reserve Complex from 1937 to 1975. Bothalia 14: 265–269.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. M. Shackleton
    • 1
  • N. J. Griffin
    • 1
  • D. I. Banks
    • 1
  • J. M. Mavrandonis
    • 1
  • S. E. Shackleton
    • 1
  1. 1.Wits Rural FacilityKlaserieSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations