Long-term change in the biomes of southern Africa: Implications for restoration ecology

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Timm Hoffman

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Humans have changed the environment in profound ways.  What we see around us today may be nothing like the kind of environment that existed centuries or even only a few decades earlier and, as a result, acceptable baseline conditions might also have changed. This has important implications for the setting of reference points for restoration ecology. Using an analysis of repeat photographs, we summarise the changes that have occurred in the major biomes of southern Africa over the last 100 years. The results show that the Succulent Karoo biome has remained relatively stable over time, although woody plant cover has increased in ephemeral river environments.  Woody plants have also expanded into fynbos biome environments on the Cape Peninsula as a result of fire protection policies that are currently in place. The eastern part of the semi-arid Nama-Karoo biome has become significantly more grassy since the mid-20th century while grass cover has also increased in the more arid parts of the Grassland biome. The Savanna biome has experienced a significant increase in woody plant cover over the last 100 years in both the mesic and arid parts of this biome. These results are discussed in the context of changing land use practices in the region.  The number of animals utilising southern African environments have declined significantly over time while fire regimes have also changed. Understanding the different ways in which land use has influenced environmental outcomes provides restoration ecologists with the tools to influence particular trajectories of change.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration