Lesson Learned

Helen Farmer, MSc student, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.

With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the Percy FitzPatrick Institute implemented a project that combined scientific research and practical management in order to tackle the problems of introducing herbivores into a vegetation reserve. By investigating the impacts of herbivores living in the Anysberg Nature Reserve in the Succulent Karoo Hotspot, the institute developed monitoring programs to detect vegetation change resulting from increasing herbivore populations.

What was the most important lesson learned?

Herbivore reintroduction into areas with vegetation of high conservation priority needs to be accompanied by a monitoring protocol with immediate and relevant feedback to management.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

In the Little Karoo, a global biodiversity hotspot for plant species richness, large areas of land are being converted from small-stock farming to conservation. This conversion includes the reintroduction of indigenous herbivores whose impact on the vegetation is unknown.

This project combined a scientific study of herbivore impact in a provincial nature reserve with the development of a monitoring protocol to detect vegetation change as herbivore population sizes increase.

The scientific study found that under current stocking rates in the reserve, no vegetation type was being utilized unsustainably, and in fact there were signs of vegetation recovery from high utilization during small-stock farming. It is anticipated that this will change with increasing herbivore population sizes since stocking rates are currently very low.

It was decided that the monitoring protocol should cover all vegetation types equally in order to enable detection of changes in herbivore distribution and their impacts across the landscape.

Monitoring concerns and approaches were discussed in a workshop with reserve staff, neighboring private conservation area staff, and experienced scientists. A need was identified for a two-pronged monitoring approach with immediate and relevant feedback to management.

A simple yearly check was designed that can be performed each year by reserve staff (field rangers). If the results from this simple monitoring trigger worry levels, a more detailed investigation is initiated by trained scientists. Data entry sheets were designed with analysis spreadsheets so that analysis of the data is simultaneous with data entry and results are obtained immediately.

- July 11, 2007