Effect of perennial water on soil, vegetation and wild herbivore distribution in southeastern Zimbabwe.
The effects of artificially supplied perennial water on soil properties, vegetation dynamics and the distribution of large herbivores was investigated in southeastern Zimbabwe. Data collection took place between March 1997 and July 1998. Water points were situated primarily on three different soil types (clay-loam, sandy-clay-loam and sand), and in four different vegetation types (Hill communities, Colophospermum mopane veld, Acacia nigrescens woodland and Albizia petersiana woodland). One water point in C. mopane veld (Bandama) had been closed two years prior to data collection, while another, in the Hill community (Manyoka), had been introduced, two years prior to data collection. Changes in physical (infiltration) and chemical (organic carbon and nutrients) properties of soils around water points were largely restricted to within 100 m of water. Chemical enrichment of the soil occurred only at water points that had been in place for more than two years. Soil surface conditions were altered to distances beyond 100 m from water. Manyoka (the new water point) was an exception, with extreme changes limited to within 100 m of water. Herbaceous and woody species composition changed in response to distance from water with changes best described by asymptotic equations. Changes in species composition of the woody component appeared to be longer lasting than changes to the herbaceous component. Most perennial grass species declined close to water, but Urochloa mosambicensis increased close to water in areas outside of the Hills. Herbaceous species diversity was adversely affected by distance from water on sandy soils (Hill communities and A. petersiana woodland), but was largely unaffected on clay-loam (A. nigrescens woodland) and sandy-clay-loam soils (C. mopane veld). Woody species composition and density was altered out to 500 m from perennial water in Acacia nigrescens woodland on clay-loam soils. Results suggest that this vegetation type may be susceptible to bush encroachment close to water. Trends in woody canopy utilisation were generally similar to trends in woody species composition, and it is proposed that the former may be used to indicate future changes in the latter. Conversion of trees to shrubs was highest at Manyoka (the new water point) indicating that woody destruction by elephants is extreme during the initial years following water introduction. Large herbivore biomass was greatest close to water (< 1 km) during the dry season but not during the wet season. Herbivore species distributions appeared to be influenced by the position of perennial water, but since all range was within easy access of water, it is unlikely that animal distributions were constrained directly by the position of surface water. It is more likely that herbivores were spatially separated on the basis of habitat type.
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