|Date||18 Dec 2007|
The grassland biome is the second largest in South Africa, but one of the three least protected: only 2.2% of its total area is formally conserved. In South Africa, 100 plant, 12 bird, six mammal and two butterfly species are grassland endemics. Grasslands also contain 10 of the 14 globally Threatened endemic bird species in South Africa.
The Moist Highland Grassland (the focus of this study) occur at 1400-1800 m a.s.l. and are among the most threatened biotopes in South Africa, with much having been irreversibly transformed: only 1.5% of what remains is formally conserved despite its high level of endemism and many threatened taxa. We propose to study bird diversity and reproductive success as responses to differing burning and grazing practices within the MHG with the aim of assessing which agricultural practices that utilise the natural resources of grasslands can be considered ‘conservation friendly’. Reproductive performance is deemed a better biological signal of conservation importance than simple measures of abundance and diversity.
Despite being adapted to frequent natural disturbances (fire), South African grasslands are being increasingly degraded through the cumulative influences of overgrazing, excessive burning, plantation forestry and invasion by alien plants. Most lack the ability to recover after severe disturbance, and 60% of South Africa's grasslands are already transformed by activities other than pastoralism, such as afforestation and urbanisation.
Natural fires in highveld grasslands may be as infrequent as every four years or more, and empirical studies support concern over the impacts of unnaturally frequent fires and heavy grazing. Heavy grazing (especially by sheep) and annual burning are the most common agricultural management regimes and these have very high negative impacts on biodiversity.
This study aims to identify which forms of pastoralism are compatible with biodiversity conservation: its outputs will be directly applicable to the conservation of indigenous, Threatened and endemic species. Although birds are used as the model study taxon group, all taxonomic groups are predicted to benefit from identification of, and subsequent application of, conservation-friendly management. Currently, both conservation managers and agricultural extension officers lack the biological information needed to advise on or effect sound management practices.
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|Date||18 Dec 2007|
Ian Little holding a Southern Tchagra that has been processed and is ready to be released.
For research purposes a small sample of blood is taken from each bird prior to ringing and release. This blood is used for various purposes including systematics, parasite analysis phylogeographic studies.
Ian Little counting birds from the top of a land rover. There are a number of methods for assessing the numbers diversity of birds in an area. This point Count method is a very quick and easy method but gives merely an estimate.