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UK Research and Innovations (2019)

The impact of megafaunal loss and climate change on ecosystem functions in aridland ephemeral river systems

Megafaunal Loss Climate Aridland

Titre : The impact of megafaunal loss and climate change on ecosystem functions in aridland ephemeral river systems

Pays/Région : Namibia

Durée : sept. 19 - juin 23

Référence projet : 2285958
Catégorie : Studentship

Résumé
Ephemeral river systems refer to rivers that only visibly contain water for a few weeks in a year, at most. This is usually because they are situated in hot, dry climates with very little rainfall. As such they are invaluable to communities of humans and wildlife alike, because of the relative scarcity of water available to them from other sources. Namibia has 12 of these ephemeral rivers running through the country, which support rich and unique vegetation, provide agricultural services, and act as an oasis for migrating and endemic megafauna populations (Jacobson et al , 1995).

Unfortunately, charismatic megafauna (terrestrial vertebrates heavier than 1000kg, Owen-Smith, 1988) is an uncommon sight in most of the Namibian rivers now, largely due to hunting and other human-wildlife conflicts. This is bad news from a conservation perspective, but also from an economic perspective, as wildlife tourism contributes a significant amount towards Namibia’s revenue (Jacobson et al , 1995). It does provide a unique opportunity for experimentation, however. With similar river systems having megafauna persist in some but not others, we can compare the disparity of ecological processes between the rivers, with relatively clear cause and effect. My PhD involves investigating the differences between these river systems using remote sensing data. It should also yield new data on the ecological roles of certain large animals using these systems, particularly elephants and giraffes.

Modelling of climate effects are also a key component of this study for 2 reasons. The first pertains to the prevalence of ephemeral river systems in drylands, as expected changes to rainfall frequency and intensity, resulting from climate change, may drive other temporary rivers to become classed as ’ephemeral’ (Larned et al, 2010 ; Tooth and Nanson, 2011). The second pertains to the relationship between climate and ecosystem. How the projected rainfall changes influence ephemeral river hydrology may be somewhat understood, but how said changes influence ecological processes within aquifer dependent ecosystems are not (Eamus et al, 2006 ; Colvin et al, 2007). Thus, investigating rainfall change in these systems is integral to this project.

Lead Research Organisation : University of Reading

Financement : Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

UK Research and Innovations

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