Landscape change and ecological processes in relation to land-use in Namaqualand, South Africa, 1939 to 2005

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South African Geographical Journal/ Suid-Afrikaanse Geografiese Tydskrif

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University of Cape Town

This paper examines the consequences of land use on vegetation over a sixty-six year period, within various agrarian landscapes across the winterhummer rainfall ecotone in northern Namaqualand. We employ repeat ground and aerial photography and interviews with land users to elucidate the causal factors that explain environmental change and stability. Ecological literature on landscape change in Namaqualand has suggested that communal land-use is detrimental to vegetation cover and species richness. Our study shows that there have been very few changes in vegetation cover and species richness in cultivated and grazed communal areas during the last 65 years, but that there has been a regeneration process in the private and protected areas. We demonstrate that these different vegetation responses reflect different land management histories. This evidence suggests that the potential for increased vegetation cover and species richness in response to land-use change is higher than was previously assumed and provides a new perspective on the latent capacity of communal landscapes to regenerate from changes caused by cultivation and grazing pressure. The environmental history presented in this paper spans a temporal and spatial scale that elucidates the complex relationship between land-use, climate, soils and vegetation change.