Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 1443–1471 | Cite as

Assessing biodiversity integrity for the conservation of grazed and burnt grassland systems: avian field metabolic rates as a rapid assessment tool

  • Ian T. Little
  • Philip A. R. Hockey
  • Raymond Jansen
Original Paper


The South African grassland system is home to over 3,300 plant species, 15 of the country’s 34 endemic mammal species, 12 of the 40 endemic bird species (four of which are globally threatened) and five RAMSAR wetland sites. To assess and address the ecological integrity of farmed grasslands we used process-oriented techniques, including nesting success and field metabolic rates (FMR) of birds, and an adaptation of the multi-taxon biodiversity intactness index (BII) using plant, arthropod and bird diversity data which is a comprehensive tool for assessing ecological integrity using multiple taxonomic groups. Current pastoral management practices have a significant detrimental effect on avian abundance, species richness, nest density and fledgling output. Overall energy turnover and BII values confirm the importance of conserved areas for birds in moist highland grassland systems and support the need for further conservation efforts in grassland systems by both private landowners and reserve managers. Findings based on both avian FMRs and the BII in this study were found to be comparable, lending support to the use of FMR as a rapid assessment technique for assessing ecosystem integrity for future studies of this nature. Scenarios of potential biodiversity improvement with changes in fire management regimes are also presented.


Birds Conservation Fire Nesting success Indicator Field metabolic rate 



The authors would like to thank Balongile Bhengu and her staff at Verloren Valei Nature Reserve for her support and assistance with historical data. To the farm managers and owners, Thys, the Grobelaars, Bafana and Job of Sakhelwe and Roger Croall, thanks for allowing the research to be conducted on their land and hopefully it can assist in your future decision making. To Luciano Makaka, Maxwell Boakye, Thabo Mabuza, Thomas Birch, Jessica da Silva, Grant Cannon and the others who assisted in the field, if not only for the company, thanks for the help. My gratitude also goes to all the others who have helped along the way from Dullstroom weather station (Charl Strydom) to the people of Dullstroom, Colin Everson for the data he provided, Thomas Birch for computer assistance. For financial support we would like to thank the funders SANBI (John Donaldson), the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Cape Town.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian T. Little
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Philip A. R. Hockey
    • 2
  • Raymond Jansen
    • 2
  1. 1.Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST/NRF Centre of ExcellenceUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Environmental, Water and Earth SciencesTshwane University of TechnologyPretoriaSouth Africa
  3. 3.Endangered Wildlife TrustJohannesburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.HowickSouth Africa

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