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Discuss the vegetation zones in Africa


Discuss the vegetation zones in Africa



1. Lowland rainforest
African lowland rainforests occur along the Guinea Coast of western Africa and in the Congo basin. The full development of this tropical formation requires continuously warm conditions and an annual rainfall exceeding 50 to 60 inches (1,270 to 1,520 millimetres) distributed fairly evenly over the year. The vertical limit is about 3,500 to 4,000 feet. This multistoried, highly diverse, extensive, and potentially self-perpetuating assemblage has been described by some as the source of virtually all tropical floristic diversity. No other part of the world sustains a greater biomass (total weight of organic matter in a given surface area) than lowland tropical rainforests. Even though the speciation (proliferation of distinct types of plant) within the African rainforests is notably poorer than that of its counterparts in Southeast Asia and the Amazon basin of South America, these forests sustain a huge multiplicity of life-forms, occupying different strata (generalized levels of plant height) and niches (separate, small-scale habitats).
Characteristically, tropical rainforest is composed of a ground story, from 6 to 10 feet tall, of shrubs, ferns, and mosses; a middle story of trees and palms 20 to 60 feet in height; and a dominant top canopy consisting of trees up to 150 feet high with straight unbranched trunks, buttressed roots, and spreading crowns of perennial leafage. The large branches of these crowns provide niches for epiphytes, including orchids, ferns, and mosses. Lianas tie trees to one another, parasitic species cling to trunks and branches, and strangler figs (Ficus pretoriae) put down aerial taproots. Nevertheless, these are not ?impenetrable? jungles. It has been suggested that some early European travelers and pioneer botanists may have exaggerated the difficulties of human penetration because they journeyed along atypical waterways and along tracks where disturbance of the original vegetation had thickened the regenerating ground layer. In true rainforests, grasses are adventitious (occurring in consequence of fortuitous intrusions). Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) can grow abundantly in areas where the vegetation has been disturbed, providing good fodder for grazing animals when young but quickly becoming rank, coarse, and a refuge for insects. Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica) is a troublesome grass on depleted and fire-seared ground.

2. Eastern African forest and bush
Lowland forests and evergreen bush land form a long belt of land some 125 miles broad along the Indian Ocean. From various causes—notably the monsoonal climate, freely draining soils, and long historical impact of humans—these forests are much more limited in their structure (physical form), speciation, and robustness. On more favored terrain—such as estuarine fringes, the seaward flanks of the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, and hill masses athwart the rain-bearing southeast monsoon— forest and a close broad-leaved woodland are still dominant. Where land is in a rain shadow, in areas of unfavorable geology (e.g., raised coral reefs), and near cities and small ports, thorny bush, succulent shrubs, and scrawny grassland prevail. Nevertheless, the region now sustains a number of economically important domesticated trees—both indigenous and exotic—such as the coconut palm, cashew, mango, and (especially on Zanzibar and Pemba) clove.

3. Mangrove swamp
Mangroves include a variety of species of broad-leaved, shrubby trees (10–40 feet high) that fringe muddy creeks and tidal estuaries. They require warm saline water—hence their distribution along tropical coastlines. Often they form nearly impenetrable stands, for which the easiest access is by sea. The trunks and roots are termite-resistant, and they have long been favored as a building material and for making charcoal.

4. Broad-leaved woodland and grassland
This classification constitutes one of the most extensive composite categories now recognized and includes much of the land formerly labeled as savanna. Two broad bands extend across the continent, one from about 7° to 12° N latitude and the other from about 8° to 22° S latitude. Structure and floristic composition vary greatly with the increase of latitude, both in the north and the south. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with marked seasonality of occurrence and considerable fluctuations from year to year, both in total rainfall and in the onset of rainy periods. The woodlands of western Africa strikingly resemble those south of the Equator. In both areas, undulating wooded interfluves on light soils successively alternate with swampy, clay-based valley grasslands (called fadamas in Nigeria and dambos in Zambia and Malawi) in a topographically linked sequence of soils called a catena.
Trees, 30 to 50 feet high, are typically deciduous and often fire-resistant, since much of this land is burned annually. Common western African species include types of Isoberlinia (a spreading leguminous tree of the pea family), Daniellia (a leguminous tree with white bark), and Lophira (a tree with strap-shaped leaves that is said to yield the most durable timber in the region). Other hardwoods, forming distinct communities, are Combretum and Terminalia, which are better suited to the drier areas. Prevalent southern equivalents include Brachystegia (a leguminous hardwood, the bark of which formerly was used to make cloth) and Julbernardia (another plant of the pea family resembling Isoberlinia). Over much of the interior of Tanzania, in areas of reduced rainfall and poorer soils, a light-canopied, sustained woodland called Miombo forest rises above a rather scrawny ground layer. This is an excellent habitat for bees, and honey has long been gathered there.
Because of periodic burning, tall grasses have become dominant over large expanses of plateau land, which sometimes contains few, if any, of its original trees. The tall, coarse red grass Hyparrhenia can form prominent stands, but it makes poor grazing land and often harbours insects that spread disease. Much better for the pastoralists are induced swards of Themeda.
For centuries humans have selectively retained certain economically important tree species in areas cleared for farming; the effect has been to create what is called ?farmed parkland,? in which a few favoured trees rise above the fields. Examples include the shea butter nut tree (Butyrospermum), common in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire; Acacia albida, found in Senegal and Zambia; and the truly domesticated baobab (Adansonia digitata), which is perhaps the most widely distributed.

5. Thorn woodland, grassland, and semidesert vegetation
Toward the margins of the tropics, the vegetation cover becomes lower and thinner as the fluctuating transition to desert vegetation ensues. In the same progression the concept of an annual rainfall (nominally 5 to 20 inches) yields to the reality of extreme unreliability in both incidence and expectation. Under such restraints a definitive ?boundary? with the desert becomes meaningless. Moreover, there appears to have been a trend toward declining precipitation in the last half of the 20th century, and human impact certainly has enhanced the natural deprivation of plant life in the marginal regions. The southern margin of the Sahara—roughly between the latitudes of 15° and 20°—is called the Sahel (Arabic: Sa?il; meaning ?shore? or ?edge?), the word being extended by implication to comprehend the fluctuating margins of the great sand seas of the Sahara to the north. The southern equivalent covers much of the Kalahari, which is often called a desert but is more properly a thirstland.
Thorn woodland displays a predominance of xerophytic, sometimes succulent or semisucculent trees, such as acacia, Commiphora (the myrrh tree), or Boscia (an evergreen hard-leaved tree). The occurrence of the bunched and thorny desert date (Balanites) seems to accompany land impoverishment. A relatively luxuriant shrub layer, often forming dense thickets, is found in conjunction with succulents, such as aloes, Sansevieria (a fibrous species), and Adenium, or desert rose (a succulent shrub with smooth gray bark, a huge water-storing base, and beautiful red or pink flowers), and smaller euphorbias.
Farther toward the desert, tree growth and perennial grass—surviving in narrow strips along watercourses—separate much larger areas of sparse annual grasses (Cenchrus in western Africa, Eragrostis south of the Equator, and Chrysopogon on the margins) and scattered low shrubs, often mainly acacias. Shrubs may often be salt-tolerant. While shrubs may die from inadequate moisture, they are little affected by the rare fires that occur.

6. Desert vegetation
The Sahara has one of the lowest species densities in the world, and a sustained vegetation cover (which can include trees and bushes) occurs only in the massifs and oases. Elsewhere the vegetation is discontinuous and consists of two main types: perennials with huge root systems and sparse aerial parts, often protected by waxy cuticles, thorns, and hairs; and ephemerals with slight root systems and little foliage but with the ability to flower profusely immediately after occasional storms and then to seed quickly and abundantly. The stony and rocky expanses give more hold for plants than do the vast areas of shifting sands. In some areas with slightly more rainfall, grass tufts may grow 50 yards apart. Aristida is the dominant grass, and for brief periods it can yield a nutritious forage called ashab.
The Namib is one of the world’s driest deserts. The area along the coast, however, is almost always foggy, and succulent shrubs (such as aloes) manage to survive on this moisture. The Namib also contains the strange tumboa, or welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis), which may live 100 years or more.

7. Karoo-Namib shrubland
In this drought-prone land, soils are often shallow, even saline. The low shrubs that grow there can be divided into two groups: woody plants, such as species of Acacia and Pentzia and the saltbush (Atriplex); and succulents, including aloes, euphorbias, and Mesembryantheum. Aristida and Themeda are characteristic grasses. Every year the blossoms of bulbous plants lay short-lived carpets of colour. Being both drought-resistant and high in minerals, many of the shrubs can provide useful grazing for goats and sheep.

8. Highveld grassland
The grassland classification is restricted to regions with 10 percent or less woody plant cover. The Highveld meets this definition and probably owes much to unaided nature for its creation and perpetuation, since fires caused by lightning strikes are relatively frequent. Its extent has always been fairly precisely defined: areas with more than 15 inches of rainfall during the summer. Highveld vegetation, though modified considerably by human activity, traditionally has been differentiated into sweet veld (dominated by Themeda) or sour veld (Andropogon and Eragrostis), the latter making poorer pasturage.

9. Mediterranean vegetation
This zone is determined chiefly by its climate, which is characterized by very dry summers and mild, rainy winters, but it has long been much differentiated by its inhabitants. Large tracts have been degraded into maquis (macchie), garigue, or dry semidesert (steppe) vegetation. Maquis consists of dense scrub growths of xerophytic (drought-resistant) and sclerophyllous (leathery) shrubs and small trees, which are often fire-resistant. Garigue characteristically is found on limestone soils and has more woody growth, including evergreen and cork oaks (Quercus suber). The higher slopes of the Atlas Mountains once carried large stands of pine and cedar, but they have been much depleted. Typical grasses, progressing from the coast to the desert, are Ampelodesmos, Phalaris, and Stipa.

10. Cape shrub, bush, and thicket
This region constitutes the southern counterpart of the Mediterranean zone, although (with the exception of the Atlas Mountains) it is richer in its vegetation potential. There were once considerable enclaves of true evergreen bushland, which have reverted to shrubland (fynbos). Sclerophyllous foliage and proteas abound. Although grassy tracts occur on the mountains, they are characteristically unusual lower down. Beyond the Cape Ranges, fynbos grades into karoo.
francis1897 answered the question on January 12, 2023 at 05:50

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