Trip report: Porcupine herbivory on Aloe claviflora plants in the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve in Prince Albert
Article by Gina Arena
PhD student, Gina Arena, recently joined Timm Hoffman and Hana Petersen, on a fieldtrip to Prince Albert between 2 - 5 August 2021. While Timm and Hana undertook a repeat photography study at the Tierberg-LTER site, Gina surveyed of a population of Aloe claviflora plants in the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve. In 2016, when the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) hosted Gina as an NRF intern at the Tierberg-LTER site in Prince Albert, she initiated a small research project on the aloes in the nature reserve. She sampled the population and set up camera traps to observe floral visitors during the flowering season and published a popular article in the Veld & Flora on some of her findings.
A persistent drought that struck the region between 2016 and 2021, however, resulted in the destruction of many of the aloes in the reserve by foraging porcupines that were affected by the harsh drought. Porcupines are known to eat a variety of foods, including the stems of aloe plants, during drought when their primary food and water sources become scarce.
Subsequently, Gina undertook to resurvey the population in December 2019 and August 2021 to assess the extent of mortality of aloes caused by foraging porcupines. An alarming 60% of the sampled population have been destroyed by porcupines since 2016. Although annual rainfall has improved slightly since 2020, evidence suggests that the porcupines continue to forage on the aloes. Stefan Short, a 3rd year Nature Conservation student and Renu-Karoo intern, assisted Gina with her fieldwork in the nature reserve. He has been inspired to help conserve a range of aloe sizes on the reserve by building fences around the plants to keep the porcupines from eliminating the whole population.
This research is ongoing and the initial findings are being prepared for publication by Gina and her co-authors.
Gina Arena and Stefan Short surveying Aloe claviflora on the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve in Prince Albert. (Photo credit: Sue Dean)