Winter forage as a limiting factor for guineafowl in plantation forestry lands.
This research investigates the potential impacts that a change in land-use to plantation forestry from an area of extensive I intensive agriculture has on helmeted guineafowl Numida meleagris populations. A comprehensive literature review revealed that the likely limiting factors for guineafowl in plantation forestry areas include the age of plantation, proportion of home range planted to timber and the availability of winter forage species. Initially the process of planting creates a disturbance that encourages favourable weed and grass species for guineafowl that provide winter forage and suitable groundcover. Up to five years since planting, habitat conditions are favourable and guineafowl populations increase. After five years, the shading effects from the Pinus spp. results in a decrease in species richness of the understorey vegetation as well as a decrease in the abundance of crucial winter species such as Cyperus esculentus. As a result populations of guineafowl start to decline. Guineafowl populations that have plantations older than ten years within their home range need to have diets supplemented by grain maize, or a suitable grain substitute, unless there is adequate unplanted area to meet their nutritional needs. The rationale for this study originates through a mixed response in growth rates of guineafowl flocks observed in the study area. The study-site for this research is North East Cape Forests, near the town of Ugie. Land-use in this area was an extensive beef and sheep grazing farmland. Up until recently, much of the area has been transformed into plantation forestry, planted to predominantly Pinus species. The effect of a change in land-use to plantation forestry on guineafowl populations is largely unknown and this research therefore presents the first attempt to gain an understanding of how plantation forestry can impact on guineafowl populations. This research forms the final component to the degree of Master of Environment and Development: Protected Area Management. It is a mini-dissertation with an expected duration of six months. The research has been written up as two separate components. Component A includes a study of the literature and methods used in the dissertation. Component B presents the findings of the research with conclusions and recommendations. Component B has been written and formatted for submission according to the standards required by the South African Journal of Wildlife Research.