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Sand Forest Conservation at &Beyond Phinda
2 Apr '12
Sand Forest Conservation at &Beyond Phinda
In collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve has set up a long-term conservation experiment to monitor tree dynamics in the unique Sand Forest” one of the seven distinct habitats found on the Reserve.
The only region where this type of dry, tropical Sand Forest is found is in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique; it usually occurs in small patches surrounded by savanna woodland. Sand Forest harbours many rare species, such as suni antelope, Neergaards sunbird and the pink-throated twinspot. Rare giant tree species include the Zulu Podberry and the Lebombo Wattle.
Around the turn of the century changes in the Sand Forest structure became visible. Elephant and nyala were thought to be responsible, as their foraging activities opened up the forest canopy. The Sand Forest Research Project was therefore launched in 2005. An electric fence was erected around 3 km2 of the forest to deter elephants, and nyala exclosures were put up within the area. In this way the browsing effects of elephant and nyala could be studied and the vegetation monitored.
One of the key findings from the research team thus far has been that both elephant (a mega-herbivore) and nyala (a medium-sized herbivore), were responsible for a change in tree species composition within two years of the initiation of the experiment. Nyala also prevent seedlings from growing into saplings, potentially affecting the forest composition as much as the elephants’ impact on larger trees.
“Managing large mammals is extremely complex, and it is critical that any reserve management decisions taken are evidence-based. The results of our collaborative project with Phinda staff are peer reviewed by independent scientists, and provide a sound basis for Phinda’s managers to make confident decisions”, says Rob Slotow, Professor with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Director of the Amarula Elephant Research Programme.
“This experiment is a unique opportunity to determine the separate effects of elephant and nyala on vegetation. As no mega-herbivore other than elephant and the medium-sized nyala are using Sand Forest at Phinda, we can positively ascribe any browsing effect to one of these species or both”, explains Georgette Lagendijk, Post-Doctoral Fellow with the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “The exclosure experiment at Phinda is an excellent contribution to both science and conservation as the numbers of long running exclosure experiments are few. The longer we can keep them up, the more we can learn about this unique ecosystem.”
Surveyed in 2005 when the fences went up, again in 2007 and now in January 2012, the research team is waiting for the results of longer term browsing effects from elephant and nyala to see what the impacts are on the forest. There are still many questions pertaining to the ecology of Sand Forest, but this long-term experiment will hopefully shed some light on some of the mysteries which it still holds.
Issued by: media@andBeyond.com&Beyond
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About &Beyond&Beyond is one of the world’s leading experiential adventure travel companies, designing personalised luxury safaris in 16 African countries, and India. The company also owns and operates 33 extraordinary lodges and camps in Africa and India’s wilderness highspots. Established in 1991, &Beyond takes exceptional care of its guests in order to make a difference; its commitment to sustainable responsible travel and community empowerment is world renowned.
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