Plant Ecology

, Volume 142, Issue 1–2, pp 87–96 | Cite as

Remarkable medium-term dynamics of leaf succulent Mesembryanthemaceae shrubs in the winter-rainfall desert of northwestern Namaqualand, South Africa

  • N. Jürgens
  • I.H. Gotzmann
  • R.M. Cowling


Populations of shrubs in a winter-rainfall (ca. 70 mm yr-1 desert community (Succulent Karoo), dominated by leaf succulents, showed remarkable dynamics over a 17-yr period. After a severe drought in 1979, which caused high plant mortality, perennial species number in a permanent 10 m × 10 m plot doubled between 1980 and 1996, when the maximum of 41 species was recorded. Numbers of individuals of evergreen, leaf succulent shrubs also doubled over the same period, but showed fluctuations in response to dry years during the monitoring period. Detailed observations on the four dominant leaf succulent shrubs (all members of the Mesembryanthemaceae) between 1983 and 1996, showed species-specific patterns in population turnover. Mortality of all observed individuals ranged between 60% and 85%, and the proportion of the population that was recruited over this period ranged from 62% to 89%. In only one species did individuals persist throughout the monitoring period. Mean ages of individuals, excluding seedlings with lifespans of <1 yr, and individuals observed at the beginning of the monitoring period, ranged from 4.6 yr to 5.6 yr. Patterns of mortality and recruitment showed substantial differences among species and were not all attributable to rainfall patterns. Overall, the turnover of the shrub populations over the 15-yr monitoring period was remarkably high for a system of desert perennials. These unusual population patterns may explain the unique structure of leaf succulent-dominated communities in the Succulent Karoo.

coexistence diversity leaf succulent growth form mortality population monitoring shrub lifespan 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Jürgens
  • I.H. Gotzmann
  • R.M. Cowling

There are no affiliations available

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