16 April 2007

REM Landscapes and Habitats

This weekend was my first visit to the Reserva Especial de Maputo (REM) this year. I accompanied my Mozambican colleagues on a trip to measure the tree biomass found in various habitat types at the reserve. In addition to helping out with the tree counts, I took pictures of the different types of habitat and evidence of disturbance. The pictures here depict the REM landscape - and I try to give habitat types where I can. Some of the types may not seem very different, however, statistical analysis of tree density, coverage, and biomass shows different levels of emergent (really tall) trees versus shrubs and short trees (less than 5 meters). This is the greenest I have ever seen the reserve, although the last time I was here in 2004, it was the middle of the dry season.

The Research Team (sans me) - Sr. Jotamo, Sr. Domingo, dr. Cornelio, & Sr. Dungo (from left to right)

Futi River Floodplain - this area is seasonally flooded. Up to 5 inches of water still covered the flats in some places, so we didn't get out to the mangal (mangroves) this weekend to take measurements.

Carissa spp. forest (chanfuta) bordering the Futi River floodplain. The yellowy trunks with the light colored leaves are very beautiful. It is often found in sand forest.

On our second day, we were stuck on the floodplains for 4 hours trying to extract the landrover from the muck. Pushing, sticking twigs and vegetation under the wheels for traction, and finally tying the quadrat rope, attached to the tow cable, to a distant shrub and pulling the car out of the muck. Fun times. ;-) This is when I got the shot of the Carissa forest boundary. Now I remember why "going mudding" in a 4x4 has never appealed to me as a fun outdoor activity.

Woodland - found along the Futi River. This type of habitat has the greatest amount of human disturbance. The dense, brushy growth follows the area's use for machambas (agricultural fields) and human habitation. Many animal species (antelope species, elephants, etc.) prefer this type of habitat because it is relatively easy to find food here. Humans hunt in this area even though they may no longer live there or farm. There are very few big trees, but it is possible to find edible fruits. We found some ripe tintsiva (Dialium schlecteri) fruits which tasted very good. There was also lots of calho (Tabernamontana elegans) - another popular local fruit.

Woodland Mosaic - One of the big visual differences between this and woodland is the elephant damage. There were lots of torn branches, Strychnos fruit remains, and elephant dung at this site. We also found some Sclerocarya birrea (marula) trees outside the quadrat. This is a fruit well liked by both humans and elephants. It makes great beer.

Jotamo and Cornelio are measuring trunk diameters (at breast height) in sand forest (floresta areanosa). Sand forest is a rare type of habitat found only in the Maputaland region in Africa - northeastern KwaZulu-Natal to Maputo Bay. There are many large trees in this type of habitat and rare endemic plant species. Ronga people protect some of these sand forests as sacred areas. Chiefs and curendeiros may perform rituals and religious ceremonies in these places for land fertility, healings, and ancestral worship.

Sand Forest

Hygrophillis grassland
- basically, this is a seasonal wetland. Most are located in the valleys between dunes and run parallel to the Indian Ocean. Oh, and this is one of the resident elephants that make the reserve famous. There were between 300-350 elephants at last count in 2006 (it was a dung count). REM is one of the last places in Africa where the elephants are free to walk down to the ocean shore and go for a swim in the surf if they like. KwaZulu-Natal, just south of the reserve (about 50km), bills the region as the Elephant Coast.

Open Woodland - here the trees are a little taller than in woodland areas and there is grass in the spaces between trees. Fire helps maintain the grassed areas. At this site, there was lots of Strychnos, both macuacua (S. madagascariensis) and masala (S. spinosa).

Wooded Grassland - not completely savanna yet, however frequent fires keep down the brush and kill the little trees and saplings. This area probably burned within the last few months as the burn marks on the trees seemed relatively fresh. It has been very dry here even though the "rainy" season is currently coming to an end.

Savana - Setting out the quadrat for savanna tree biomass measurements. Once the quadrat was set, the measurements took less than 5 minutes. The trees in the photo were not counted as they are dead. It actually took more time to set and remove quadrat bounderies, than it took to make measurements.

Eucalyptus Plantation - located near the entrance to the Main Guard Camp in Madjadjane. The eucalyptus were planted during colonial times as a scheme to make money from the timber and pulp in an area of low agricultural productivity. Unfortunately, eucalyptus trees suck water out of the ground like you wouldn't believe. The trees were planted along the Futi, a seasonal river. While well meaning, the plantation has caused more problems than it solved. Although no study has been conducted on the effects of eucalyptus plantings at REM, research (one example) in other places has shown harmful effects on local climates and native species. Southern Mozambique is subject to frequent droughts, and there isn't much water in the area to begin with... so in hindsight, not a great idea.

Lagoa Nini - one of several freshwater to brackish lakes found at the reserve. Crocodiles and hippos live in the lakes along with various fishes like tilapia, and parasites like bilharzia and schistosomiasis. So, no swimming for me!!

Me on the savannas of REM the day before my big 3-5.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos. I love the elephants and other wildlife on the road sign.