The Structure and composition of the woody plant communities of Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi




Fire management, Miombo, Remote sensing, savanna, woodland


Background: The role of protected areas as sanctuaries for indigenous vegetation in Malawi, particularly miombo woodlands, will become increasingly important in the face of global change and rising human populations. Accurate knowledge of the extent and composition of woody components of plant communities will therefore play a vital part in informing conservation and management initiatives.
Objectives: The aims of this study were to (1) classify, describe and map the
woody plant communities of the Majete Wildlife Reserve (MWR) using a combination of remote sensing and on-the-ground surveys, and (2) to compile an inventory of the tree and shrub species present in MWR.
Methods: A combination of remote sensing and on-the-ground surveys was used to classify, describe and map the woody plant communities of MWR. Additionally, an inventory of the tree and shrub species in each delineated woody plant community was made.
Results: Five distinct woody plant communities, two of which were subdivided into three sub-communities each, were recognised in MWR, and a total of 118 woody plant species within 31 families were identified. A description of the location, structure and species composition of each community is provided. Miombo was the most widespread community (covering 35.9% of the area), while the lower-altitude shrublands and woodlands were the richest floristically.
Conclusion: This information is intended to provide a basis for improved management planning and policy development, including fire management, the placement of infrastructure, and the re-introduction of extirpated mammal species, as well as providing a baseline against which to monitor change. Additionally, this study provided an example of how the combination of remote sensing and ground surveys can provide a rapid and relatively inexpensive method for classifying the woody components of communities at a relatively fine scale over large areas, which may become particularly relevant for developing countries and regions that undergo rapid and constant change.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Willem Nieman, Stellenbosch University

Doctoral candidate

Brian van Wilgen, Stellenbosch University

Professor Emeritus, Department of Botany and Zoology

Alison Leslie, Stellenbosch University

Senior lecturer


Anderson, G.D. & Walker, B.H., 1974, ‘Vegetation composition and elephant damage in the Sengwa Wildlife Research Area, Rhodesia’, South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 4(1), 1–14.

Begossi, A., 1996, ‘Use of ecological methods in ethnobotany: diversity indices’, in Economic Botany, 50(3), 280–289. Bell, R.H.V., 1984, Majete Game Reserve: Report of an Ulendo and suggestions for management and utilisation, Kasungu, Malawi.

Bond, W.J. & van Wilgen, B.W., 1996, ‘Fire and plants’, London; Chapman and Hall.

Buchhorn, M. et al., 2019, ‘Copernicus Global Land Service: Land Cover 100m: Epoch 2015: Globe’, Version V2.0.2.

Burnham, K.P. & Overton, W.S., 1978, ‘Estimation of the size of a closed population when capture probabilities vary among animals’, Biometrika, 65(3), 625–633.

Byers, B., 2001, Conserving the Miombo Ecoregion – Final Reconnaissance Summary Report, Reconnaissance Summary, WWF, Southern African Regional Programme Office (SARPO), Harare, Zimbabwe.

Chao, A., 2005, ‘Species richness estimation’, Encyclopaedia of statistical sciences, 12, 7907–7916.

Chirwa, P.W., Syampungani, S. & Geldenhuys, C.J., 2014, ‘Managing Southern African Woodlands for Biomass Production: The Potential Challenges and Opportunities’, in K. von Gadow, T. Pullala, M. Tomé (eds), Managing Forest Ecosystems, pp. 137–167, Berlin: Springer.

Chiu, C.H. et al., 2014, ‘An improved nonparametric lower bound of species richness via a modified good-turing fre- quency formula’, Biometrics, 70(3), 671–682.

Clegg, B.W. & Connor, T.M.O., 2012, ‘The vegetation of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, south-eastern Zimbabwe’, African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 3, 109–131,

Colwell, R.K. 2005 ‘EstimateS: statistical estimation of species richness and shared species from samples. Version 7.5. User’s guide and application’,

Colwell, R.K. & Coddington, J.A., 1994, ‘Estimating terrestrial biodiversity through extrapolation’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. The Royal Society, 345(1311), 101–118.

Conybeare, A.M., 2004, ‘Elephant impacts on vegetation and other biodiversity in the broadleaved woodlands of S-Central Africa’, Biodiversity of the Four Corners Area: Technical Reviews Volume Two. Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, Bulawayo/Zambezi Society, Harare, Zimbabwe, 477–508.

Dew, L.A. et al., 2017, ‘Evaluating the efficacy of invasive plant control in response to ecological factors’, South African Journal of Botany, 109, 203–213,

Dowsett-Lemaire, F. & Dowsett, R.J., 2002, Biodiversity surveys and the development of new research and monitoring strategies for the lower Shire protected areas, Lilongwe.

Duvane, J.A. et al., 2017, ‘Characterization of the primary metabolome of Brachystegia boehmii and Colophospermum mopane under different fire regimes in miombo and mopane African woodlands’, Frontiers in Plant Science, 8, 1–12,

Eastwood, R. & Lipton, M., 2011, ‘Demographic transition in sub-Saharan Africa: How big will the economic dividend be?’, Population studies, 65(1), 9–35.

Edwards, E., 1983, ‘A broad-scale structural classification of vegetation for practical purposes’, Bothalia, 14(3/4), 705– 712,

Enslin, B.W. et al., 2000, ‘Long term effects of fire frequency and season on the woody vegetation dynamics of the Sclerocarya birrea/Acacia nigrescens savanna of the Kruger National Park’, Koedoe, 43(1), 27–37,

FAO, 2015, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, Rome, Italy.

Frost, P., 1996, ‘The Ecology of Miombo Woodlands’, in B. Campbell (ed), The Miombo in Transition: Woodlands and Welfare in Africa, pp. 11-55, Bangor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

Furley, P.A. et al., 2008, ‘Savanna burning and the assessment of long-term fire experiments with particular reference to Zimbabwe’, Progress in Physical Geography, 32(6), 611– 634,

Gandiwa, E. & Kativu, S., 2009, ‘Influence of fire frequency on Colophospermum mopane and Combretum apiculatum woodland structure and composition in Northern Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe’, Koedoe, 51(1), 1–13,

Geldenhuys, C.J. & Golding, J. S., 2008, ‘Resource use activities, conservation and management of natural resources of African savannas.’, in F.G. Faleiro, N.A. Lopez (eds), Savannas: Challenges and Strategies for Equilibrium between Society and Agribusiness and Natural Resources, pp. 225–260, Brasilia, Brazil: Embrapa Cerrados.

Government of Malawi, 2010, Malawi state of environment and outlook report, Lilongwe, Malawi.

Goyder, D.J. et al., 2018, ‘The Cuito catchment of the Okavango system: A vascular plant checklist for the Angolan headwaters’, PhytoKeys, 31(113), 1–31,

Hall-Martin, A.J., 1972, ‘Aspects of the Plant Ecology of the Lengwe National Park, Malawi’, University of Pretoria,South Africa.

Hall-Martin, A.J. & Drummond, R.B., 1980, ‘Annotated list of plants collected in Lengwe National Park, Malawi’, Kirkia, 151–181.

Heck Jr, K.L., van Belle, G. & Simberloff, D., 1975, ‘Explicit calculation of the rarefaction diversity measurement and the determination of sufficient sample size’, Ecology, 56(6), 1459–1461.

Huntley, B.J., 1982, ‘Southern African savannas’, in Huntley, B.J. & Walker, B.H. (eds) Ecology of tropical savannas, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 101–119.

Jacobs, O.S. & Biggs, R., 2001, ‘The effect of different fire treatments on the population structure and density of the marula, Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) subsp. caffra (Sond.) kokwaro (Kokwaro & Gillet 1980) in the Kruger National Park’, African Journal of Range and Forage Science, 18(1), 13–23,

Jinga, P. & Palagi, J., 2020, ‘Dry and wet miombo woodlands of south-central Africa respond differently to climate change’, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 192(6), 372,

Kabwazi, H.H., Banda, A.K. & Mwanyambo, M.L., 2000, ‘Volume I: A Survey of Plant Resources in Protected Areas of the Lower Shire’, Consultancy Report on Natural Resources Survey in Lengwe, Majete and Mwabvi, Malawi.

Kapinga, K. et al., 2018, ‘Species-specific allometric models for estimation of the above-ground carbon stock in miombo woodlands of Copperbelt Province of Zambia’, Forest Ecology and Management, 417, 184–196.

Kennedy, A.D. & Potgieter, A.L.F., 2001, ‘Fire season affects size and architecture of Colophospermum mopane in southern African savannas’, Plant Ecology, 167, 179–192.

Kerr, J.T. & Ostrovsky, M., 2003, ‘From space to species: Ecological applications for remote sensing’, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 18(6), 299–305,

Kremen, C., 1992, ‘Assessing the Indicator Properties of Species Assemblages for Natural Areas Monitoring’, Ecological Applications, 2(2), 203–217,

Kutsch, W.L. et al., 2011, ‘The charcoal trap: Miombo forests and the energy needs of people’, Carbon Balance and Management, 6, 1–11,

Luoga, E.J., Witkowski, E.T.F. & Balkwill, K., 2004, ‘Regeneration by coppicing (resprouting) of miombo (African savanna) trees in relation to land use’, Forest Ecology and Management, 189(1–3), 23–35.

Malaisse, F. & Parent, G., 1985, ‘Edible wild vegetable products in the Zambezian woodland area: A nutritional and ecological approach†’, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 18(1), 43–82,

Mapaure, I., 2001, ‘Small-scale variations in species composition of miombo woodland in Sengwa, Zimbabwe: the influence of edaphic factors, fire and elephant herbivory’, Systematics and geography of plants, 71(2), 935–947.

Maquia, I. et al., 2019, ‘Diversification of African tree legumes in Miombo–Mopane woodlands’, Plants, 8(6), 1–19,

van der Merwe, H. et al., 2019, ‘Vachellia erioloba dynamics over 38 years in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa’, Koedoe, 61(1), 1–12,

Missanjo, E. et al., 2014, ‘Evaluation of natural regeneration and tree species diversity in miombo woodlands in Malawi’, Journal of Biodiversity Management and Forestry, 3(3), pp. 1–4,

Mittermeier, R.A. et al., 2003, ‘Wilderness and biodiversity conservation’, PNAS, 100(18), 10309–10313.

Mohd Hasmadi, I., Pakhriazad, H.Z. & Shahrin, M.F., 2009, ‘Evaluating supervised and unsupervised techniques for land cover mapping using remote sensing data’, Malaysian Journal of Society and Space, 5(1), 1–10.

Moura, I. et al., 2018, ‘Woody species from the Mozambican Miombo woodlands: A review on their ethnomedicinal uses and pharmacological potential’, Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 12(2), 15–31,

Munishi, P.K.T., Temu, R.P.C. & Soka, G., 2011, ‘Plant communities and tree species associations in a Miombo ecosystem in the Lake Rukwa basin, Southern Tanzania: Implications for conservation’, Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment, 3, 63–71.

Mwase, W.F. et al., 2007, ‘The role of land tenure in conservation of tree and shrub species diversity in miombo woodlands of southern Malawi’, New Forests, 33(3), 297– 307,

Nefabas, L.L. & Gambiza, J., 2007, ‘Fire-tolerance mechanisms of common woody plant species in a semiarid savanna in south-western Zimbabwe’, African Journal of Ecology, 45(4), 550–556, 2028.2007.00767.x.

Nieman, W.A., 2020, Integrated fire management plan: Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi, Technical Report 05/20, African Parks, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nieman, W. A., Leslie, A. J.& Wilkinson, A., 2019, ‘Traditional medicinal animal use by Xhosa and Sotho communities in the Western Cape Province, South Africa’, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 15(1), 34,

Nieman, W.A., van Wilgen, B.W. & Leslie, A.J., 2021, ‘A re-construction of the recent fire regimes of Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi, using remote sensing’, Fire Ecology, 17(4), pp. 1–13,

Olivier, A., 2018 ‘Ecology of the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis minor) in Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi’, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Peel, M.J.S., Kruger, J.M. & MacFadyen, S., 2007, ‘Woody vegetation of a mosaic of protected areas adjacent to the Kruger National Park, South Africa’, Journal of Vegetation Science, 18(6), 807–814,

Ribeiro, N.S., Shugart, H.H. & Washington-Allen, R., 2008, ‘The effects of fire and elephants on species composition and structure of the Niassa Reserve, northern Mozambique’, Forest Ecology and Management, 255(5–6), 1626– 1636.

van Rooyen, M.W. et al., 2008, ‘Landscapes in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa’, Koedoe, 50(1), 99–112.

Russell, J.M., Tedder, M.J. & Demmer, S., 2019, ‘Vachellia sieberiana var. woodii, a high-altitude encroacher: the effect of fire, frost, simulated grazing and altitude in north-western KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’, African Journal of Range and Forage Science, 36(4), 169–180,

Ryan, C.M. & Williams, M., 2011, ‘How does fire intensity and frequency affect miombo woodland tree populations and biomass?’, Ecological Applications, 21(1), 48–60.

Satyanarayana, B. et al., 2011, ‘Assessment of mangrove vegetation based on remote sensing and ground-truth measurements at Tumpat, Kelantan Delta, East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, 32(6), 1635–1650,

Scholes, R.J. & Walker, B.H., 1993, ‘An African savanna: synthesis of the Nylsvley study’, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Sedano, F., Gong, P. & Ferrão, M., 2005, ‘Land cover assessment with MODIS imagery in southern African Miombo ecosystems’, Remote Sensing of Environment, 98(4), 429– 441,

Shackleton, C.M. & Scholes, R.J. 2000 ‘Impact of fire frequency on woody community structure and soil nutrients in the Kruger National Park’, Koedoe, 43(1), 75–81,

Shannon, G. et al., 2011, ‘Relative impacts of elephant and fire on large trees in a savanna ecosystem’, Ecosystems, 14(8), 1372–1381.

Sherry, B.Y., 1989, ‘Aspects of the ecology of the elephant Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797) in the middle Shire Valley, southern Malawi’, University of Malawi.

Smit, I.P.J. et al., 2010, ‘Effects of fire on woody vegetation structure in African savanna’, Ecological Applications, 20(7), 1865–1875.

Smith, W., Meredith, T.C. & Johns, T., 1999, ‘Exploring methods for rapid assessment of woody vegetation in the Batemi Valley, North-central Tanzania’, Biodiversity and Conservation, 8(4), 447–470,

Sweet, R.J., 1982, ‘Bush control with fire in Acacia nigrescens/ Combretum apiculatum savanna in Botswana’, Proceedings of the Annual Congresses of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa, 17(1), 25–28.

Syampungani, S. et al., 2009, ‘The miombo woodlands at the cross roads: Potential threats, sustainable livelihoods, policy gaps and challenges’, Natural Resources Forum, 33: 150–159.

Thomson, P.J., 1975, ‘The role of elephants, fire and other agents in the decline of a Brachystegia boehmii woodland’, Journal of the Southern African Wildlife Management Association, 5(1), 11–18.

Toti, D.S., Coyle, F.A. & Miller, J.A., 2000, ‘A structured inventory of Appalachian grass bald and heath bald spider assemblages and a test of species richness estimator performance’, Journal of Arachnology, 28(3), 329–345.

Trapnell, C.G., 1959 ‘Ecological Results of Woodland Burning in Northern Rhodesia’, Journal of Ecology, 47(1), 129–168. Trollope, W.S.W., 1998, Effect and use of fire in the savanna areas of southern Africa. University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

Walters, M., Midgley, J.J. & Somers, M.J., 2004, ‘Effects of fire and fire intensity on the germination and establishment of Acacia karroo, Acacia nilotica, Acacia luederitzii and Dichrostachys cinerea in the field’, Ecology, 4(3), 1–13,

White, F., 1983, The vegetation of Africa. Paris: UNESCO.

van Wilgen, B.W. et al., 2014, ‘The ongoing development of a pragmatic and adaptive fire management policy in a large African savanna protected area’, Journal of Environmental Management 132, 358–368,

Williams, V.L., Witkowski, E.T.F. & Balkwill, K., 2007, ‘The use of incidence-based species richness estimators, species accumulation curves and similarity measures to appraise ethnobotanical inventories from South Africa’, Biodiversity and Conservation, 16(9), 2495–2513.




How to Cite

Nieman, W., van Wilgen, B., & Leslie, A. (2021). The Structure and composition of the woody plant communities of Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi. Bothalia, African Biodiversity & Conservation, 51(2).



Original research, Reviews, Strategies, Case studies