Biotic indicators of grassland condition in KwaZulu-Natal, with management recommendations.
Kinvig, Richard Grant.
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The South African grassland biome is disappearing rapidly through advancing development and change in agricultural land use. One of the most threatened grassland types, Midlands Mistbelt, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is an extremely diverse and home to many endemic species across an array of taxa. Three taxa, namely, grasses, grasshoppers and butterflies represent various trophic levels, which are important to the functioning of the grasslands. Ten grasslands were sampled by walking ten fifty metre transects for a twelve-month period. The grasslands were selected as they represented a range of management practices and varying environmental conditions. Using Indicator Species Analysis (ISA) twenty-two species of grasshopper were identified as indicators of environmental variables and management practices. The abundances of the various species indicated the intensity of the management regimes or disturbances. Using the twenty-two grasshopper species abundances and a three hundred point sampling assessment of the grasses creates an assessment tool that can rapidly appraise the management of the grassland, but due to lack of data for other taxa, cannot assess whether management practices for the focal taxa create congruent results for non-focal taxa. Two of the three taxa proved to be good indicators of grassland health, whilst the third, butterflies were ineffectual, due to low abundance and richness. From the results it was concluded that burning was taking place to frequently, and required a reduction to every four years, as this would improve butterfly richness and abundance, and increase abundance of endemic and flightless grasshopper speCies. A rotational grazing system needs to be implemented at sites where continual grazing takes place, wildlife or livestock, impacts on the grassland condition and species diversity. Increasing habitat heterogeneity increases species diversity, and allows later successional species to be included in the grasshopper assemblage. Management of the grasslands in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands needs to be more responsive and adaptive. In addition, small fragment management needs to be intensified to provide a range of habitats and refugia that will suit all species. This study advocates the use of grasshoppers and grasses as suitable biotic indicators of grasslands in the KwaZuluNatal Midlands.