Impacts of a South African coastal golf estate on shrubland bird communities

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South African Journal of Science

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Academy of Science of South Africa


University of Cape Town

Golf courses and estates are one form of development threatening coastal vegetation in South Africa's Cape Floristic Region. They occupy substantial tracts of land, fragmenting indigenous vegetation. This study investigates the effects on bird community structure and function of replacing natural Strandveld vegetation with a 170-ha golf estate in which 46 ha of Strandveld vegetation was retained in conditions ranging from pristine to moderately degraded. Bird assemblages of the remaining Strandveld patches in the golf estate were compared with those of an adjacent Strandveld conservation area. Field work was conducted during the birds' breeding season, in October and November 2005. The golf estate was more species rich overall, but many species were uncommon, several were present only as a consequence of the creation of new habitats, and species were not evenly distributed across the remaining Strandveld fragments. Bird diversity and abundance were significantly higher in the adjacent conservation area. It is estimated that more than 8500 individual birds were displaced by construction of the golf estate and four Strandveld species were not represented at all within the estate. Within the estate, species richness rose with increasing Strandveld patch size and the minimum area of continuous pristine vegetation required to maintain the natural species assemblage was estimated at 51 ha. The golf estate was characterized by a high proportion of generalist and granivorous species, but at the cost of reduced numbers of frugivores and nectarivores. Energy flow through the bird communities in the two areas was thus markedly different, and pollination and fruit dispersal potential within the golf estate were reduced substantially. Golf courses and golf estates inevitably will not substitute for the natural habitats they have replaced, but careful design with input from ecological theory can reduce the adverse effects of fragmentation.