The impact of communal land-use on the biodiversity of a conserved grassland at Cathedral Peak, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, South Africa : implications for sustainable utilization of montane grasslands.
South African grasslands are under-conserved and there is a need to expand conservation efforts beyond the boundaries of protected areas. While communal grasslands have conservation potential they are generally over-utilized and the impact of communal land-use on biodiversity is poorly studied. At the same time there is pressure on protected areas to allow for the sustainable utilization of biodiversity. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of communal land-use on various components of biodiversity and to make recommendations regarding communal use of protected areas. A fence-line study was conducted to assess the impact of eight years of controlled communal land-use on biodiversity in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. The communally used land (referred to as the lease land) which was used for controlled grazing as well as plant collection was compared with land under formal conservation. Vegetation was sampled using the importance score method and veld condition assessments. Selected invertebrate taxa were sampled using sweep netting, colour pan traps and transects and were identified to morphospecies level. Multivariate statistics revealed that sites generally grouped according to landscape position rather than land-use. No significant differences were found in diversity, evenness, richness or veld condition between the lease and conservation land. However, more than twenty-five percent of vegetation and invertebrate species were found exclusively in the lease or conservation land, suggesting that different suites of species were supported by the two landuses. Four alien plant species were found exclusively in the lease land, while one vulnerable and one rare plant species were found only in the conservation land. Further research is required to assess whether biodiversity was diminished by controlled communal. While the lease concept may offer potential as a low-use buffer zone, localised damage from cattle paths and weak enforcement of grazing agreements were areas of concern. Keywords: communal grass)ands, grassland flora, grassland invertebrates, transfrontier park.
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