Implications of grazing and burning of grasslands on the sustainable use of francolins (Francolinus spp.) and on overall bird conservation in the highlands of Mpumalanga province, South Africa

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We investigated the densities of the Redwing Francolinus levaillantii and Greywing Francolins F. africanus and the diversity of grassland birds in general along a land-use gradient in the highlands of Mpumalanga province, South Africa. Redwing Francolins cannot tolerate intensive grazing and frequent burning and are confined largely to unburnt, ungrazed grasslands. Their density and the species richness of grassland birds in general are negatively correlated with grazing intensity. Redwing populations drop to densities that cannot be utilised by hunters on a sustainable basis in grasslands that are grazed at even moderate levels or burned annually. Nineteen bird species (including five threatened species) were confined to essentially pristine grassland and were never observed in grazed/annually burned grasslands. The Greywing Francolin is more evenly distributed (although always at sub-utilisation densities) along the grassland land-use gradient, and its density is positively correlated with grazing intensity. There are two assemblages of grassland bird species that appear to be indicative of the intensity of habitat utilisation. Populations of grassland birds in the study area are becoming increasingly dependent on isolated patches of pristine grassland and are threatened by management involving annual burning and high stocking rates on a landscape scale.

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