Effect of Vachellia tortilis on understory vegetation, herbaceous biomass and soil nutrients along a grazing gradient in a semi-arid African savanna

Temesgen Yadeta, Elmar Veenendaal, Karle Sykora, Zewdu K. Tessema*, Addisu Asefa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The spatial pattern and abundance of herbaceous vegetation in semi-arid savannas are dictated by a complex and dynamic interaction between trees and grasses. Scattered trees alter the composition and spatial distribution of herbaceous vegetation under their canopies. Therefore, we studied the effect of Vachellia tortilis on herbaceous vegetation composition, biomass and basal area, and soil nutrients on sites with varying grazing intensities in the central rift valley of Ethiopia. Data were collected on species composition, cover and biomass of herbs and grasses, and soil moisture and nutrient contents under light, medium, and heavy grazing pressures, both under the inside and outside of V. tortilis canopies. Species richness was similar in both locations but decreased with increased grazing. Only the overall biomass and herb cover were significantly greater under the canopy than outside, and overall biomass showed significant unchanging decline with increased grazing. However, vegetation cover was significantly greater on moderately grazed sites compared to low and heavily grazed sites. All soil variables were significantly higher under V. tortilis canopies than outside. Our findings suggest that V. tortilis has more effect on composition and diversity of herbaceous vegetation than on species richness, and that V. tortilis promotes the herbaceous layer biomass by reducing soil moisture loss and increasing soil fertility under the inside than outside the canopies. Therefore, we suggest that management practices should be directed on reducing pressure on V. tortilis by regulating grazing. Low to moderate grazing levels (i.e., a stocking rate less than 39.6 TLU ha −1 yr −1 ) seems to be tolerable to ensure sustainable conservation of the species in the study area in particular and in semi-arid savannas in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1601–1609
JournalJournal of Forestry Research
Volume29
Issue number6
Early online date4 Jan 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Keywords

  • Basal area cover
  • Grazing pressure
  • Inside/outside canopy
  • Soil moisture

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