Evidence for aeolian origins of heuweltjies from buried gravel layers

Authors

  • Michael D. Cramer Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Johanna von Holdt Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Lesego Khomo Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Jeremy J. Midgley Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2016/20150025

Keywords:

mima-mounds, termite, erosion, vegetation pattern, calcrete

Abstract

Although heuweltjies (19–32 m diameter) dominate the surface of much of the southwestern Cape of South Africa, their origins, distribution and age remain controversial. Current hypotheses are that the heuweltjies are (1) constructed by the excavation and mounding habits of burrowing animals; (2) the result of erosion by water of areas between patches protected from fluvial action by denser vegetation or (3) the product of localised aeolian sediment accumulation beneath denser vegetation associated with termitaria. At a site where quartz-containing gravels occur on the soil surface in areas between heuweltjies, these gravels were found to extend as a relatively intact layer of uniform concentration from the inter-mound area into the mound at the same plane as the surrounding soil surface. This buried layer suggests that heuweltjies were either built-up by deposition on a previous soil surface layer or eroded from sediment accumulated above the buried gravel layer. Mounds contain a relatively large proportion of silt consistent with sediment deposition. Mound sediment elemental composition was strongly correlated with that of local shale, indicating a local source of sediment. Pedogenesis was considerably more advanced off- than on-mound. There was no evidence of extensive regional aeolian sediment mantling over the vast area in which the heuweltjies occur. These findings and observations support the aeolian deposition hypothesis of heuweltjie origins combined with a degree of erosion, rather than a termite bioturbation hypothesis or a predominantly erosion-based hypothesis.

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Published

2016-02-01

How to Cite

Cramer, M. D., von Holdt, J., Khomo, L., & Midgley, J. J. (2016). Evidence for aeolian origins of heuweltjies from buried gravel layers. South African Journal of Science, 112(1/2), 10. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2016/20150025