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The plant ecology of seasonally flooded areas of the Pongolo River Floodplain, with particular reference to Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.

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The impounding of the waters of the Pongolo river, upstream of its floodplain on the Mocambique coastal plain, may adversely affect the functioning of the floodplain system. A multidisciplinary study of the functioning of the floodplain was initiated to provide a basis for the development of a management strategy for the floodplain. The study reported in this dissertation considered the flood dependence and functioning of the vegetation of the seasonally inundated area. The vegetation was mapped and the communities ordinated, according to the Braun-Blanquet technique, in relation to their positions relative to high flood level (HFL) and the level of the water after flood subsidence (i.e. maximum retention level, MRL). Community distribution was shown to be strictly determined by both the height of the floods and by the MRL. It was concluded that periodic floods are essential for the maintenance of the communities. The Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. Community, which forms extensive meadows in the zone of periodic inundation, was studied in detail. As the water level receded during winter, productivity was high (up to 23 kg ha¯¹ d¯¹1 dry mass) and a palatable sward was produced. This is heavily grazed by domestic stock, but as the soil dries out and water stress becomes significant, production decreases, C. dactylon becomes less palatable, and grazing shifts to newly exposed areas. The shift in grazing allows the build up of a large standing crop of both grazeable and ungrazeable (below ground and stolons) material. At the time of inundation by the next floods c. 910 kg ha¯¹ of dry mass, c. 17 kg ha¯¹ nitrogen and c. 2 kg ha¯¹ phosphorus have been removed by grazers. It is concluded that this production, which is flood dependent, forms an important supplement to stock grazing during winter. It is suggested that this source of grazing could be stimulated by irrigation during winter. Cynodon dactylon is shown to decompose rapidly during inundation, losing half of its mass and nutrients in c . 28 days. It therefore represents a major energy and nutrient input during the aquatic phase. The extent to which it is grazed during submergence is unknown. The nutrient input is derived ultimately from the soils of the inundated areas and, since nutrients are being removed by both terrestrial grazers and flushing, continued production is reliant upon the annual sediment load reaching the floodplain. Most of the sediment load will now be deposited in the impoundment, and fertilization may be necessary to maintain productivity. The response of C. dactylon to the seasonal fluctuations in water level are used to formulate proposals for water release from the dam. These include proposals for the short-term, i.e. until the demand for irrigation water conflicts with the requirements of the floodplain, and for the long-term, when less water will be available for the floodplain


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1981.


Plant ecology--KwaZulu-Natal--Pongolo River Floodplain., Floodplains--KwaZulu-Natal--Pongolo River Floodplain., Grasslands--KwaZulu-Natal--Pongolo River Floodplain., Theses--Botany.