Aim The search for possible factors influencing the spatial variation of grass quality is an important step towards understanding the distribution of herbivores, as well as a step towards identifying crucial areas for conservation and restoration. A number of studies have shown that grass quality at a regional scale is influenced by climatic variables. At a local scale, site factors and their interaction are considered important. In this study, we aimed at examining environmental correlates of grass quality at a local scale. The study also sought to establish if biotic factors interact significantly with abiotic factors in influencing a variation in grass quality.
Location The study area is located in the Kruger National Park of South Africa. The study area stretches from west (22°49′ S and 31°01′ E) to east, (22°44′ S and 31°22′ E) covering an area of about 25 × 6 km in the far northern region of the Kruger National Park.
Methods We collected environmental data such as soil texture, percentage grass cover and biomass as well as grass samples for chemical analysis from specific locations in the study area. In addition, a digital elevation model (DEM) with a resolution of 5 m was used to derive elevation, slope and aspect using a geographic information system (GIS), which were related to grass quality. We used correlation analysis and anova to relate environmental variables to grass quality. Multivariate analysis techniques were used to simultaneously analyse and explore the complex interactions between variables.
Results and conclusions Our results indicate that there is a significant relationship between grass quality parameters and site-specific factors such as slope, altitude, percentage grass cover, aspect and soil texture. Relatively, percentage grass cover and soil texture were more critical in explaining a variation in grass quality. Plant characteristics such as species type interact significantly with slope, altitude and geology in influencing nutrient distribution. The results of this study may give a better insight on foliar nutrient distribution patterns at a landscape scale in savanna rangelands. Furthermore, the results of this study may help in the selection of ancillary information, which could be used in conjunction with other data such as remotely sensed data to map grass quality – an important step towards understanding the distribution and feeding patterns of wildlife. However, we acknowledge that this study is based on one seasonal snapshot, therefore some slightly different findings may be obtained during other times of the year. Nevertheless, the study has revealed that under the conditions experienced during the study period, nutrient distribution varies with varying biotic and abiotic factors.