Management approaches of conservation areas: Differences in woody vegetation structure in a private and a national reserve

J. T. Fisher, B. F.N. Erasmus, E. T.F. Witkowski, J. van Aardt, G. P. Asner, K. J. Wessels, R. Mathieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Management approaches taken in protected areas will affect their ability and effectiveness to conserve biodiversity. MalaMala (a concession within Sabi Sand Wildtuin, a private game reserve), and an adjacent area in the Kruger National Park (Kruger, statutory protected area) in South Africa provide a comparison of different types of conservation management. We measured three-dimensional woody vegetation structure, as an integral component of biodiversity, across 6200. ha in the two reserves using a LiDAR (Light-Detection-and-Ranging) sensor. We compared how different management approaches in the two reserves affected woody structural diversity. Vertical canopy diversity was measured using: i) percent cover of woody vegetation extracted from LiDAR canopy height models, ii) a volumetric pixel (voxel) approach to extract 3D vertical canopy-height profiles; and iii) horizontal diversity using landscape metrics. MalaMala had higher vegetation density than Kruger in the <. 3. m (2.5 times) and >. 6. m (2.7 times) height classes. This vegetation was in the form of larger, more cohesive patches as a result of the legacy of previous land-use (cattle ranching) and current management practices (bush clearing) and the recent increase in megaherbivores. Length of exposure to, and recent higher densities of, megaherbivores (particularly elephants) has altered the density of tall trees in the two reserves, thus affecting structural heterogeneity and associated habitat options for small-bodied vertebrates. These differences in vegetation structure are exacerbated by current management practices (e.g. bush-clearing and fire regime), with potential implications for faunal biodiversity conservation across a wide range of scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-152
Number of pages7
JournalSouth African Journal of Botany
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • Land-use succession
  • LiDAR
  • Management
  • Megaherbivores
  • Structural heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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