oa Koedoe : African Protected Area Conservation and Science - Long-term stability of grazing lawns in a small protected area, the Mountain Zebra National Park : original research
We examined a heavily grazed plant community dominated by creeping grass species with the aim of, (1) determining its response to the exclusion of grazing and (2) its long-term persistence. This plant community was particularly favoured by wild ungulate species that prefer short grasses - blesbok (Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi), springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) and black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou). Exclusion of grazing by large herbivores by means of fencing resulted in the virtual disappearance of the creeping grasses and their replacement by tall tufted species. On plots that remained unfenced, the plant species composition was found to be little changed after an interval of more than 20 years. The number large stock unit equivalents (LSU) per ha carried by the plant community was used as a proxy for grazing intensity. Monitored for approximately 2 years at the start of the study, LSU per ha was found to greatly exceed levels recommended for commercial livestock production. This plant community conforms to a recently published definition of a grazing lawn, in that intense grazing promotes palatable, grazing-tolerant grass species.
Conservation implications : The positive association between grazers and grazing-tolerant grass species evidently persisted for more than 20 years and there was no evidence of an increase in abundance of unpalatable plant species. Despite the small size of the park, which limited the extent of large herbivore movements, localised heavy grazing did not lead to range degradation.
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