Plant and Soil

, Volume 320, Issue 1–2, pp 321–332 | Cite as

Soil infiltrability as a driver of plant cover and species richness in the semi-arid Karoo, South Africa

  • Anthony Mills
  • Martin Fey
  • John Donaldson
  • Simon Todd
  • Leon Theron
Regular Article


Data from 199 plots in the semi-arid Karoo showed that relationships between soil infiltrability and plant cover/species richness, as depicted by boundary lines, yielded ecological insights not evident if only commonly measured soil properties such as pH, electrical conductivity and the content of clay, silt, sand, nitrogen and carbon were considered. For example, the common grass Stipagrostis obtusa, herb Lepidium africanum and shrub Pentzia incana showed potentially maximal cover at high, low and intermediate infiltrability, respectively (r 2 > 0.65 for boundary lines derived by segmented quantile regression), but did not show distinct boundary lines for sand, silt or clay content data (r 2 < 0.5). Potentially maximal species richness was revealed under soil conditions of low infiltrability, high nitrogen content and low pH. Distinct boundary lines suggested that the drivers of species richness at any particular point in the Karoo landscape may operate in opposing directions simultaneously.


Boundary lines Clay Niche Sand Silt Soil crusting 



We thank Tertius de Wet of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the University of Stellenbosch for statistical advice, and the Karoo landowners for permission to work on their farms. Financial support for this research was received from the NRF (Grant number FA2005040700027), BIOTA Southern Africa (sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under promotion number 01 LC 0024A), the Conservation Farming Project within the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the Global Environment Facility and the Mazda Wildlife Fund.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony Mills
    • 1
    • 2
  • Martin Fey
    • 1
  • John Donaldson
    • 2
  • Simon Todd
    • 2
  • Leon Theron
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African National Biodiversity InstituteClaremontSouth Africa

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