Determinants of grass production and composition in the Kruger National Park.
The dynamics and complexities of climate-soil-vegetation relations in the Kruger National Park are poorly known. Although primary production and composition of the grass layer are very important components of the Park's ecosystem, equally little is known about the determinants of these parameters. A better understanding of these processes and relations will be of value to the management of this Park, as well as providing a better insight into these complex dynamics. A study was consequently undertaken covering a 14-year period to identify the most important determinants of above-ground grass production and composition. At the core of the study is the soil water balance. The use of evapotranspiration data in a study of this nature is however not absolutely essential, provided a variety of rainfall parameters are used, though it has the important advantage of providing a much more detailed and more complete insight into the relations of the grass sward with its environment. Stepwise and tree regression procedures were used to identify the important factors. It is concluded that rainfall in its various forms is the primary determinant of grass production, standing crop, and composition, the latter either as perennials or Decreasers. Secondary determinants, in varying degrees of importance, are the thickness and base status of the A horizon, distance to permanent drinking water, and competition by woody plants. Herbivore utilization is insignificant or at most, plays a relatively minor role. Herbivores appear to exert a negative influence on Decreaser abundance only when soil moisture stress exceeds a threshold level. When this is exceeded, relatively low herbivore densities are apparently sufficient to reduce Decreaser abundance. The definitions of Decreasers and Increasers consequently require revision to take into account the overriding influence of environmental factors, particularly those of soil moisture stress. The calibration of the disc pasture meter was re-evaluated. The relation between mean disc height and standing crop is non-linear. Up to a mean disc pasture meter height of 260 mm, the correlation between this parameter and above-ground standing crop is very strong (r2 = 0.95; P<0.0005). Beyond this height, the correlation is very poor (r2 =0.09; P<0.0005), apparently being strongly influenced by the structure of the grass plant, with tall grasses, or grasses with highly lignified culms resulting in a weaker correlation.