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Keywords:

  • communal rangeland;
  • establishment;
  • recruitment;
  • seedling survival;
  • seed production;
  • Succulent Karoo

Summary

  • 1
    Heavy livestock grazing in Namaqualand, South Africa, is threatening the region's unique diversity of succulent shrubs. This is especially true in the communally managed lands, where grazing is centred around fixed enclosures (stockposts) in which animals stay overnight. In this study we set out to determine the effects of a semi-permanent stockpost on the composition of the surrounding vegetation and the mechanisms by which grazing limits the persistence of leaf-succulent shrub populations.
  • 2
    We used the grazing gradient created by a stockpost to examine the impacts of grazing on vegetation composition and changes in mortality, reproductive output and seedling establishment for the leaf-succulent species Ruschia robusta and Cheiridopsis denticulata.
  • 3
    Vegetation composition was found to change from a community dominated by the unpalatable shrub Galenia africana at high grazing intensities to a community dominated by the palatable leaf-succulent shrub R. robusta at lower grazing intensities.
  • 4
    Mortality of the leaf-succulents R. robusta and C. denticulata was high at the sites closest to the stockpost, while fruit production and seedling germination were substantially reduced over distances of 800 m and 2 km for the two species, respectively. Seedling establishment was not limited by either grazing or microsite availability. Thus reduction in reproductive output is the greatest impact of heavy grazing on these two species.
  • 5
    Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates that marked zonation in vegetation composition and population biology can develop around a fixed stockpost and that the greatest impact of grazing on the two leaf-succulent species studied is the suppression of flower and fruit production. Consistent suppression of reproductive output could have long-term consequences for the persistence of succulent shrub populations in the heavily grazed communal lands of Namaqualand. We recommend that (i) herders should be encouraged to relocate their stockposts regularly to prevent the development of centres of degradation, and (ii) areas should be relieved periodically of all grazing pressure to allow for successful seed set of native shrubs.