Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 | Page 18

FEATURE Thicket patches in the Eastern Cape: do they have any value? Rina C Grant 1,2 , Michael Powell 1 , Kamva Zenani 1 and Putuma Balintulo 1 Current Addresses: 1 Rhodes Restoration Research Group and 2 Nelson Mandela University E-mail Address: [email protected] I n the savannas of the Kruger National Park, the open grassland and sodic patches are favoured by grazers. They prefer these patches because of higher nitrogen concentrations in the grass blades that are kept short and growing by continuous grazing (Grant et al. 2019). Termite mounds also seem to act as islands of higher nutrient content that influence the nutrients in its surroundings (Grant et al. 2006). In the Albany Thicket of the Eastern Cape large patches of thicket have been cleared to provide forage for cattle and sheep and to improve visibility for tourism operations. In Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) some of these opened patches are still clearly visible after 40 years, and all species, even elephant (Loxodontha africana) seem to utilize these areas extensively (SANParks 2015). We were interested to find out: 1. Why these cleared patches have not been invaded by the surrounding woody species as happens in the savannas? 2. Whether the thicket species are present in the grassland patches, but just utilised intensely? 3. Do thicket areas provide ecosystem services in the form of nutrients or moisture to the adjacent cleared areas? In a preliminary study in early May 2019, we looked at five sites in the main camp of AENP where there was a distinct boundary between the thicket patch and the adjacent cleared and transformed area. Surveys were done in fifteen 100 m transects with three transects in each of the five sites. Transects stretched from thicket to transformed area with 50 m in each. We collected a total of 36 soil samples at 20 and 40 m from the thicket – transformed boundary into the thicket and at 20 and 40 m into the transformed area. The vegetation surveys were done Figure 1: A typical sodic patch in Southern Kruger National Park with the insert illustrating a well-utilized termite mound Figure 2: A cleared patch adjacent to the thicket in AENP. Figure 3: Typical study area with transformed areas next to well-utilized thicket. 17 Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020