Maputaland is a centre of plant endemism, within the Maputaland–Pondoland–Albany hotspot of biodiversity shared by Mozambique and South Africa. The Sand Forest vegetation is the most valuable vegetation type in this region due to the endemics it harbours, but it is currently under threat from growing animal population densities within conserved areas and from a growing human population outside. To improve our understanding of Sand Forest dynamics the present study investigated the woody plant assemblages in Tembe Elephant Park. A total of 59 plots were sampled and analysed using classification and ordination methods. The results indicate that Sand Forest in Tembe is a complex assemblage of at least three floristically and structurally distinct woody communities. An ordination of the combined results from the present study together with two other studies could link the floristics and structure of the Sand Forest to the level of disturbance by herbivores and humans. Large herbivores induce both structural and floristic changes in the Sand Forest of Tembe Elephant Park and a lack of disturbance in the nearby Tshanini Community Conservation Area leads to a state of equilibrium. The results therefore suggest that Sand Forest dynamics and complexity may be strongly linked to small- to medium-scale animal disturbance.
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Vol. 38 • No. 2