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Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Chair of Plant Ecology - Prof. Dr. Steven Higgins

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Wesuls, D; Pellowski, M; Suchrow, S; Oldeland, J; Jansen, F; Dengler, J: The grazing fingerprint: modelling species responses and trait patterns along grazing gradients in semi-arid African savannas, Ecological Indicators, 27, 61-70 (2013), doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.11.008
Key words: HOF Modelling; Indicator species; African savanna; Piosphere; Species response curve

Persistence or disappearance of plants under grazing pressure has led to their categorisation as grazing
increasers or decreasers. We aimed to extend this classical indicator concept in rangeland ecology
by interpreting the shape of species responses and trait patterns modelled along continuous grazing
gradients at different spatial scales.
Taking transects of two different lengths, we recorded the cover of vascular plant species along grazing
gradients in central Namibian rangelands. We used a hierarchical set of ecologically meaningful models
with increasing complexity – the HOF (Huisman–Olff–Fresco) approach – to investigate species’ grazing
responses, diversity parameters and pooled cover values for two traits: growth form and life cycle.
Based on our modelling results, we classified species responses into eight types: no response, monotonic
increasers/decreasers, threshold increasers/decreasers, symmetric unimodal responses, left skewed
and right skewed unimodal responses.
The most common category was that of no response (42% of the short and 79% of the long transect
responses). At both scales, decreaser responses with higher grazing pressure were more frequent than
increaser responses. Monotonic and threshold responses were more frequent along the short transects.
Diversity parameters showed a slight but continuous decline towards higher grazing intensities.
Responses of growth form and life cycle categories were mostly consistent at both scales. Trees, shrubs,
dwarf shrubs, and perennials declined continuously. Woody forbs tended to show a symmetric unimodal
distribution along the gradients, while herbaceous forbs and annuals showed skewed unimodal responses
towards lower grazing intensities.
The different grazing response types proposed in this study allow for a differentiated picture of niche
patterns along grazing gradients and provide a basis to use species as indicators for a continuum of
vegetation states altered by livestock impact. The general decline of plant diversity with increasing grazing
intensities highlights the importance of reserves that are less impacted by grazing to support the
resilience of the studied system.

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