Original Research

Montane plant environments in the Fynbos Biome

B. M. Campbell
Bothalia | Vol 14, No 2 | a1173 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/abc.v14i2.1173 | © 1983 B. M. Campbell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 October 1983 | Published: 17 December 1983

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B. M. Campbell,, South Africa

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Environmental data collected at 507 plots on 22 transects, and soil analytical data from 81 of these plots, have been used to describe the plant environments of the mountains in the Fynbos Biome. Two major regional gradients are recognized: a west-east gradient and a coast-interior gradient. Of particular consequence for fynbos-environment studies is the increase in the proportion of fine soil particles from west to east. At least some aspects of soil fertility also increase towards the east. The edaphic changes are paralleled by climatic changes: chiefly a decrease in the severity of summer drought towards the east. On the coast-interior gradient a major non-climatic variable in the gradient is rock cover. High rock cover is a feature of the interior ranges. Soils with organic horizons or with E horizons are a feature on the coastal mountains, but are generally lacking on the interior mountains.

The other environmental gradients recognized occur on individual transects and all include edaphic variables. The rockiness-soil depth gradient, on which an increase in rockiness is associated with a decrease in soil depth and usually a decrease in clay content, tends to occur in three situations. Firstly, it is associated with local topographic variation; the shallow, rocky soils being a feature of the steeper slopes. Secondly, it is associated with the aspect gradient; the hot, dry northern aspects having shallow, rocky, less developed soils. Thirdly, it tends to be associated with the altitude-rainfall gradient: shallower soils being found at higher altitudes. It is also at higher altitudes that higher rainfall is found. Variation in oxidizable carbon is chiefly accounted for by the altitude-rainfall gradient. Whereas at a biome-wide level, aspects of soil fertility are related to soil texture, it appears that on individual transects fertility is linked to amounts of plant remains in the soil and to rainfall.

Apart from these gradients, which are found on the Table Mountain quartzites, other sources of environmental variation are due to the differences between geological types. The non-quartzitic soils are generally deeper and finer-textured. It is suggested that the nutrient-poor/nutrient-rich distinction must be used with care; at least in the mountains the distinction should not automatically be substituted for the quartzitic/non-quartzitic distinction.


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