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Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of African Savannas (DFG-FOR 1501)


In collaboration with several research groups from the Universities of Bonn and Cologne, the Range Ecology and Range Management Group contributed to the DFG-funded research project (Forschergruppe) entitled "Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of East- and South Africa's Savannas" (FOR 1501).

Our work encompasses the sub-project A3 "Vulnerability and Resilience of Rangeland Vegetation as Affected by Livestock Management, Soils and Climate". This project aimed at analysing and modelling changes in rangeland vegetation, with specific emphasis on its resilience and vulnerability as affected by livestock management and environmental conditions. The work focussed on South African savannas and grassland biomes and their system shifts to alternative states under different types of range management.

Our work was closely linked to investigations on soil vulnerability and land management strategies by the Soil Science group at the University of Bonn for the same regions. Effects of different livestock systems and associated management factors on rangeland vegetation composition and production were studied. These factors included type and density of livestock, grazing intensity and timing. Specific attention was given to soil-vegetation interactions to better understand changes in rangeland vegetation as determined by livestock management, soil characteristics and climate, as well as the feedback effects of vegetation change on soil properties.

Our research areas were arranged along a gradient of aridity and contrasting tenure systems with different range management practices. We applied the concept of plant functional types to classify plant species to support the analysis and modelling of multi-species systems. Plant production, its intra- and interseasonal variability, and the ability of plant production to recover from disturbances were used as indicators to assess rangeland resilience as affected by land management. In an interdisciplinary approach, we investigated the resilience of the local social-ecological systems to severe drought.

Person(s) in charge:

Prof. Frank Ewert[2]

Person(s) involved:

PD Dr. Anja Linstädter[2,7], PD Dr. Jürgen Schellberg[2], Roelof Oomen[2], Katharina Brüser[2]Dr. Jan C. Ruppert[2,7]


March 2010 – April 2012


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Cooperating partner:

[1] Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cologne

[2] Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University Bonn

3] Soil-, Crop- and Climate Sciences, University of Free State, South Africa

[4] Department of Soil Science, University Bonn

[5] Institute for Food and Resource Economics, University Bonn

[6] Department of History, University of Cologne


Oomen, R.J., Linstädter, A., Ruppert, J.C., Brüser, K., Schellberg, J, Ewert, F., 2016. Effect of management on rangeland phytomass, cover and condition in two biomes in South Africa. African Journal of Range & Forage Science 33 (3), 185-198. DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2016.1218368

Müller, B., Schulze, J., Kreuer, D., Linstädter, A., Frank, K., 2015. How to avoid unsustainable side effects of managing climate risk in drylands – the supplementary feeding controversy. Agricultural Systems 139, 153-165. DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2015.07.001

Ruppert, J.C., Harmoney, K., Henkin, Z. Snyman, .A., Sternberg, M., Willms, W., Linstädter, A., 2015. Quantifying drylands' drought resistance and recovery: the importance of drought intensity, dominant life history and grazing regime. Global Change Biology 21, 258-1270. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12777

Brüser, K., Feilhauer, H., Linstädter, A., Schellberg, J., Oomen, R., Ruppert, J.C., Ewert, F., 2014. Discrimination and characterization of management systems in semi-arid rangelands of South Africa using RapidEye time series. International Journal of Remote Sensing 35, 1653-1673. DOI: 10.1080/01431161.2014.882028

Linstädter, A., Schellberg, J., Brüser, K., Oomen, R.J., Du Preez, C.C., Ruppert, J.C., Ewert, F., 2014. Are there consistent grazing indicators in drylands? Testing plant functional types of various complexity in South Africa’s grassland and savanna biomes. PLOS ONE 9, e104672. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104672

Moreno García, C.A., Schellberg, J., Ewert, F., Brüser, K., Canales-Prati, P., Linstädter, A., Oomen, R.J., Ruppert, J.C., Perelman, S.B., 2014. Response of community-aggregated plant functional traits along grazing gradients: insights from African semi-arid grasslands. Applied Vegetation Science 17, 470-481. DOI: 10.1111/avsc.12092
Ruppert, J.C., Linstädter, A., 2014. Convergence between ANPP estimation methods in grasslands – a practical solution to the comparability dilemma. Ecological Indicators 36, 524-531 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.09.008