Dry woodland and savanna vegetation dynamics in the Eastern Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Tedder, Michelle Jennifer.
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The Okavango Delta is an extremely dynamic system with variable vegetation comprised of permanent swamps, seasonal swamps, dry islands, floodplains and dry grassland, savanna and woodland. The system is largely driven by the interaction between fire and the annual flood, which filters down from the Okavango River catchments in Angola. While extensive research has been conducted on the flood-driven vegetation little is known about the dry woodland and savanna regions bordering these flood-driven habitats. A taxonomic classification of woody species composition resulted in eleven vegetation types. These data were then reanalyzed in terms of woody species morphology allowing these eleven vegetation types to be grouped into four functional response groups in order to provide a platform for improving the understanding of how dry woodland and savannas interact with the environment. These four groups were the savanna group mixed thornveld and the three woodland groups; mixed broadleaf woodland, shrub mopane woodland and tall mopane woodland. Burning in mixed thornveld and mixed broadleaf woodland was found to decrease woody species density and grass fuel loads and could be used for grazing management to remove unpalatable growth and improve grass species composition, while burning in shrub mopane woodland and mixed mopane woodland merely decreased the woody understory and is not recommended. Utilization dominated by grazing livestock resulted in overutilization of the grass sward leading to bush encroachment in both mixed thornveld and shrub mopane woodland, while utilization by goats alone resulted in underutilization of the grass sward and a dominance of herbaceous annuals. Livestock utilization had no effect on the occurrence of Pecheul-loeschea leubnitziae, a shrubby pioneer previously thought to be an indicator of overgrazing, however extensive P. leubnitziae cover was associated with a sward dominated by shade-tolerant grasses with low forage quality. Shrub mopane woodland and tall mopane woodland appear to be more stable vegetation states than mixed broadleaf woodland and mixed thornveld being less vulnerable to colonization by pioneer species and alteration as a result of utilization or environmental factors. For this reason management and monitoring of mixed thornveld and mixed broadleaf woodland is essential to prevent vegetation degradation and to ensure optimal forage availability for both livestock and wildlife.
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