Plant community and landscape patterns of a floodplain wetland in Maputaland, Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The lower Mkuze River floodplain is located east of the Lebombo Mountains on the Maputaland Coastal Plain in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The vegetation ecology of the floodplain was examined using the hierarchical framework described by landscape ecology theory. The smallest spatial scale to which the vegetation of the floodplain was described was the relatively homogeneous units of plant communities. From a landscape ecology perspective this level of analysis is referred to as the grain. Six plant communities were identified using two-way indicator species analysis classification. The six plant communities were: (1) Phragmites mauritianus reed swamp; (2) Cynodon dactylon floodplain; (3) Acacia xanthophloea woodland; (4) Imperata cylindrica hygrophilous grassland; (5) Ficus sycomorus riparian forest; and (6) Echinochloa pyramidalis back swamp. The distribution of these plant communities were correlated to an underlying inundation-sedimentation gradient using the ordination technique, detrended correspondence analysis. This correlation provided a useful foundation for the examination of ecological processes and phenomena at the next higher, spatially coarser level within the landscape hierarchy, namely the reference level. This reference level was described by three functional types delimited by differing flooding and sedimentation regimes. The use of landscape ecology theory guided the interpretation of results by explicitly recognizing the importance of spatial heterogeneity, hierarchical organization and dynamics, and proved invaluable in developing process-based understanding of the vegetation ecology of the lower Mkuze River floodplain.