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close this bookThe Improvement of Tropical and Subtropical Rangelands (BOSTID)
close this folderPart I
close this folderThe nature of tropical and subtropical rangelands
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Range classification

Range management issues are usefully considered within the context of ecoclimatic zones. In this report, these zones are defined largely on the basis of land potential and moisture availability (Pratt and Gwynne, 1977). Within the tropics, five such zones can be distinguished:

1. Humid to dry subhumid (moisture index not less than -10).(2) This zone is characterized by forest and derived grasslands and bushlands, with or without natural glades. The grestest potential is for forestry (perhaps combined with wildlife and tourism), or intensive agriculture. The natural grasslands of this zone require intensive management for optimum production. Approximately 0.8 hectare is required per livestock unit, depending upon the related grassland association. (3) In this zone, approximately 2.5 livestock units are required to support one subsistence pastoralist; hence, 2 hectares are required to support each individual. The maximum population density per km² is about 50 pastoralists (see table 1-1).
2. Dry subhumid to semiarid (moisture index -10 to -80). The vegetation of this zone includes moist woodland, bushland, and savanna. Forestry potential is low. However, the agricultural potential is relatively high, soils and topography permitting, with emphasis on lea farming. Large areas are generally under range use and, with intensive management, can carry 1 livestock unit per 1.6 hectares. Approximately 3 livestock units are required to support 1 subsistence pastoralist. Thus, 4.8 hectares are required to support 1 individual. The maximum density of pastoralists would be approximately 21 per km². Regular burning is an important management tool in this zone.
3. Semiarid (moisture index -30 to -42). These are areas with marginal agricultural potential, which in some regions is limited to rapidly maturing grains. The natural vegetation is characteristically dry woodland and savanna. This is potentially productive rangeland. Approximately 3.5 hectares are required per livestock unit, except where dry seasons exceed 6 months. The corresponding human carrying capability is 7 individuals per km². Animal husbandry is limited principally by the encroachment of woody vegetation and, in some locations, by leached soils. In many areas, particularly in Africa, the more open country with a high density of wildlife is a valuable tourist attraction.

TABLE 1-1 Relationship between Ecological Zone, Livestock Carrying Capacity, and Maximum Population Density under Subsistence Pastoralism

TABLE 1-1 Relationship between Ecological Zone, Livestock Carrying Capacity, and Maximum Population Density under Subsistence Pastoralism

Ecoclimatic Zones






Hectares required per livestock unit






Livestock units required to support one head of population






Hectares required per head of population






Maximum population density per km²a






a These figures presume that all land is accessible and productive; if actual population density under subsistence pastoralism even approaches these estimates, overpopulation is indicated. Higher population can only be sustained if the pastoralists derive a substantial part of their subsistence from vegetable foods--collected, grown, or procured in exchange for livestock.

SOURCE: Modified after Pratt, 1968.

4. Arid (moisture index -42 to -51). This zone is suitable for agriculture only where fertile soils coincide with a favorable distribution of precipitation, or where rainwater is concentrated in depressions. Many arid rangelands are dominated by species of Acacia or Prosopis. Perennial grasses, such as Cenchrus ciliaris, can be prominent, but succumb quickly to inadequate management. As many as 12 hectares may be required per livestock unit. Wildlife is important, particularly where dry thorn-bushland predominates. Burning requires caution but can be highly effective in range manipulation. Approximately 4 livestock units are required to support 1 subsistence pastoralist, and the maximum population density per km² is 2 individuals.
5. Very arid (moisture index -51 to -57). This zone supports rangeland with relatively low potential. The characteristic vegetation is shrub or grass steppe, with trees largely confined to water courses and seasonally inundated depressions. Perennial grasses, once dominant in many areas, are now localized within a predominantly annual grassland. Growth is confined largely to the seasonal flushes characteristic of summer therophyte vegetative communities, and grazing systems are generally based on pastoralism. Populations of both wild and domesticated animals are restricted by temperature, forage, and available moisture (Schmidt-Nielsen, 1964).

Systems of range classification should be regionally adjusted to include descriptions of the existing vegetation in physiognomic terms, with subdivisions by species composition.