Ngorongoro crater rangelands : condition, management and monitoring.
The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. The Crater comprises a flat grassland plain surrounded by steep, bushy walls. It contains extremely high densities of animals and is ecologically the central feature of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The management of the Ngorongoro Crater has changed significantly in recent times, with cattle being removed and fire excluded about 30 years ago. A detailed vegetation assessment was carried out in the Crater floor by Herlocker & Dirschl in 1972. Since then noticeable changes in vegetation structure and composition, with associated changes in wild herbivore numbers have occurred. The original vegetation survey was repeated in this study as accurately as possible using similar point-based techniques in order to quartify changes and form a baseline for management decision-making and future monitoring. In addition to repeating the vegetation survey, the standing biomass was estimated using a Pasture Disc Meter with associated calibration equations. Data were summarised using multivariate classification and ordination techniques in order to delineate six Homogenous Vegetation Units (HVUs) which can be used for management and management planning purposes, define transects and HVUs in terms of dominant species, describe the main species in relation to their occurrence in different associations and determine the fuel load of the standing crop. A key grass species technique was developed for rapid assessment of the Crater rangeland by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area staff who only need to be familiar with the dominant species. Bush surveys using a point centred quarter technique were conducted along transects in two distinct vegetation types, namely the Lerai Forest and Ngoitokitok Acacia xanthophloea forests and the lower caldera scrub vegetation. The data collected from these transacts were analysed to determine density and composition of the vegetation in the various height classes and the overall structure of the vegetation communities, A range monitoring system in conjunction with a controlled burning programme has been developed to provide an objective means of managing the- rangeland of the Ngorongoro Crater. Data revealed that changes have taken place in the vegetation, with a trend towards dominance by taller grasses and dominance by fewer species. Lack of fire has probably contributed to these changes. Reincorporating fire in the crater is recommended.
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