A comparison of anthropogenic and elephant disturbance on <i>Acacia xanthophloea</i> (fever tree) populations in the Lowveld, South Africa

  • Botha J
  • Witkowski E
  • Shackleton C
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Abstract

Acacia xanthophloea (the ‘fever tree’) is a popular medicinal species that is traded widely in South Africa. Although it occurs throughout southern Africa, there is increasing pressure on its riverine and marshy habitats. This study compares the impact of harvesting on an A. xanthophloea population located on private land near Komatipoort, Mpumalanga, with two protected populations situated within the Kruger National Park. The densities of the harvested and protected populations were similar (84±8 trees/ha and 85±20 trees/ha, respectively). There were fluctuations in the quotients between frequencies of trees in successive diameter classes, which is common in savanna where high levels of fire, mega-herbivore and anthropogenic disturbance are experienced. The extent of stem damage (stripping of bark and breakage) by elephants in the protected area was significantly higher than the extent of harvesting on private land, although the degree of damage was relatively low, with only 7 % of the populations having been damaged at rates >26 %. The degree of harvesting on private land was relatively low, with the majority of trees having been harvested at rates of less than 10 % of the stem below 2 m. Despite this, ringbarking had occurred (4 %). The basal diameters and heights were significantly lower in the protected population than in the harvested one, suggesting that over time elephant impact was the more severe disturbance. Acacia xanthophloea exhibited high resilience to disturbance, with all the elephant damaged trees and harvested individuals surviving. However, the mean bark thickness measured in local markets (6.3±1.4 mm) was significantly lower than that measured in either the harvested (12.4±1.0 mm) or the KNP (10.3±0.8 mm) populations. As harvesters tend to select the largest individuals in a population to maximise their financial returns, this could mean that smaller individuals are being harvested, and/or bark is not being given sufficient time to grow back after harvesting. Acacia xanthophloea outside protected areas thus need to be monitored and the management improved, preferably in conjunction with the resource users. In addition, traditional healers, those selling medicinal plants and other members of the community need to continue to be encouraged to cultivate this fast growing species.

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Botha, J., Witkowski, E. T. F., & Shackleton, C. M. (2012). A comparison of anthropogenic and elephant disturbance on Acacia xanthophloea (fever tree) populations in the Lowveld, South Africa. Koedoe, 45(1). https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v45i1.10

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