Continuous riparian vegetation change following a large, infrequent flood along the Sabie River, Kruger National Park
The flood of 2000 caused extensive changes within the riparian landscape of the Sabie River, Kruger National Park (KNP). Changes within the riparian landscape and the removal of vegetation resulted in considerable changes in riparian vegetation characteristics. Open patches created by the flood served as a template for the establishment of new species and the regeneration of existing species, which consequently resulted in a patch mosaic. This memorable event encouraged an investigation into the response of the Sabie River ecosystem to the memorable Large Infrequent Disturbance (LID). Riparian ecosystems are driven by varying combinations of environmental factors, such as water availability, disturbance, herbivory, fire and river morphology. This complexity depicts unique vegetation structure and assemblages of associated plant species. The lack of sufficient knowledge on the role of riparian vegetation in the health assessment of surrounding ecosystems along semi-arid rivers prompted the establishment of the Kruger Rivers Post Flood Research Program (KRPFRP). Research conducted through this monitoring program four years after the 2000 flood, revealed no significant changes in the species composition, although the location and density of many common riparian species have been changed. There was a decrease in species density across the macro channel floor (MCF) and an increase in species density across the macro channel bank (MCB). Furthermore, it was reported that the flood altered the distribution of height classes across the macro channel. In general the riparian vegetation was shorter and bushier four years post-flood. These studies furthermore illustrated that the tree to shrub ratio did not change drastically from pre-flood conditions, although a decrease in the number of shrub individuals was reported. The research presented in this dissertation was designed to further explore changes in woody species composition and structure along the Sabie River, KNP at a post flood temporal interval, i.e. between the last survey in 2004 (by the KRPFRP) and 2010. For data compatibility, the sampling and analytical approach of this study conforms to the approach followed by the KRPFRP. Data were sampled within four preselected belt-transects that form part of the larger KRPFRP. All established woody individuals were counted and measured within each contiguous 10 m x 30 m plot within each of the four belt-transects. Log transformed species composition data were analysed through the application of the Bray Curtis dissimilarity index in combination with Ward’s method of clustering. Statistical significant differences between clusters were tested through the application of the Fisher’s exact relationship test. The MIXED Procedure or PROC MIXED model was used to investigate change within the vegetation structural data. Results obtained through the various analytical methods broadly support the findings of the KRPFRP. No significant change in woody species composition could be detected between 2004 and 2010. However, a change in the density (increase and decrease) of certain species across the MCB and MCF was revealed. Species richness and density increased significantly on the MCF oppose to small changes on the MCB. A significant increase in the total number of shrubs on the MCF contributed to an overall increase in woody density for the entire study area between 2004 and 2010. Shrubs therefore remained the most dominant growth form in both sampling years. Trees decreased across the MCB although the total number of established trees remained unchanged between 2004 and 2010. Riparian vegetation structure is directly linked to species assemblages, hence the continued dominance of shrub species along the Sabie River in the KNP The Sabie River riparian landscape is therefore still characterised by short and multi-stemmed woody individuals ten years after the LID.