The Vegetation of Mountain Zebra National Park October 6th, 2017
The vegetation in and around Mountain Zebra National Park
There are three main landscapes within Mountain Zebra National Park:
1. Mountain highlands rugged landscape
The mountain highlands rugged landscape is closely associated with the tall (1m), closed-canopy grassland and sparsely distributed shrubs. Also very conspicuous in this landscape are the flat rocky outcrops. On top of the Bankberg area some rare plant species and fynbos species have been discovered, demonstrating that this grassland has a fynbos biome affinity. On the steep mid-slopes the shrub stratum has a higher canopy cover (20 – 35%), and the herbaceous layer also has more dwarf shrubs and forbs than on the less steep mountain highlands grasslands.
2. Middle plateau rolling landscape
The plateau of Rooiplaat and Juriesdam are the most prominent areas of the middle plateau rolling landscape. The landscape is dominated by medium tall (0.3– 0.8 m), open- to closed-canopy grassland. Rocky outcrops on this middle plateau landscape are dominated by dwarf shrubs and other woody plant species. The steep mid-slope and less steep foot-slope areas are dominated by the conspicuous shrub clumps and very rocky mid-slopes and foot-slopes.
3. Valley bottomland undulating plains landscape
The valley bottomland plains landscape is closely associated with the valley bottomlands and Wilgerboom River of the Park. The landscape is dominated by the relatively tall (3 - 5 m) closed- to open-canopy woodland. In some areas, however, management practices have degraded the structure of the woodland into a sparser canopy cover of woody plant species, and a higher canopy cover (30 - 50%) of the herbaceous layer. In these areas, the latter is dominated by dwarf shrubs and forbs, to more closely resemble a sparse woodland. The grass species are less conspicuous and mostly dominated by annual grass species with a low canopy cover (< 35%) and low height (< 0.5 m). In some areas, rocky plains of shale and mudstone are dominated by sparse canopy cover (35 - 55%) grassland and forb-land with Karoo dwarf shrubs and forbs conspicuous.
In a relatively small Park such as this one, vegetation diversity is likely to be lost unless large herbivore populations are managed. Fences prevent the large scale migration of ungulates that occurred in historical times, and predators have not yet been fully established. In the absence of population control under such conditions, grazing lawns may proliferate to the extent that the veld loses patch diversity. This would be particularly undesirable in Mountain Zebra National Park because the mountain zebra would be disadvantaged.
The Park is an important source of mountain zebras for the establishment of new populations in other protected areas. It would not do for the productive capacity of the zebra population to be impaired through loss of habitat, to antelope species that prefer shorter grass (Novellie 2012).
Three Biomes (Grassland, Nama Karoo and Albany Thicket) and one azonal vegetation (Inland Saline Vegetation) have been described. The Park is an important benchmark for these vegetation types, as it is one of the few conservation areas that protect and conserved these vegetation types.