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The Pongola Bush: Tree diversity assessment in a KwaZulu-Natal forest patch

Timothy F. Hall, Mary C. Scholes, Robert J. Scholes

Abstract: The Pongola Bush Nature Reserve lies in a narrow band along the escarpment between Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Although referred to as ‘bush’, this vegetation type may be considered to fit into the intersection of two types of scarp forest: the Northern Afrotemperate Forest and the Southern Mistbelt Forest. The area was heavily logged in the early 1900s with the need for timber for the emerging gold mining industry in Barberton. The forest fragment is now protected but lacks formal tree diversity assessments, and this study sets out to establish its community composition and richness using a range of standard techniques. Distributed throughout the forest, 127 circular plots (each 80 m2) were surveyed. In these, 1152 stems were measured for species, height, and diameter at breast height (DBH). Four species contributed roughly 70% of the 70 Mg ha−1 above ground woody biomass. Stem size class distributions showed a high recruitment rate of small stemmed individuals and few large individuals. This pattern is consistent with the disturbance history of the site, with limited recruitment of certain species, mainly limited to early successional species. The Pongola Bush forest is particularly diverse in terms of tree species: 41 species were recorded, and it is estimated from the species area curve that there may be 70 tree species present. Conservation implications: This survey is the first formal tree diversity survey conducted on the Pongola Bush which may assist future research and conservation strategies.
Keywords: survey / Pongola Bush / sup / forest / species / tree diversity

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