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Nelson Mandela University (2022)

Hydraulic vulnerability of Subtropical Thicket to drought : a remote sensing and physiological perspective

Buttner, Daniel Harry

Titre : Hydraulic vulnerability of Subtropical Thicket to drought : a remote sensing and physiological perspective

Auteur : Buttner, Daniel Harry

Université de soutenance : Nelson Mandela University

Grade : Master of Science (MS) 2022

Résumé partiel
Water availability is one of largest constraints on plant survival, growth, and species distribution globally. The recent escalation in tree mortality coupled with declining precipitation and amplified temperatures has implicated drought as a major cause behind many large-scale dieback events observed across the world. Raising the question, what makes some species more resistant and persist while others dwindle and vanish from the landscape ? The observed variability in species drought susceptibility demonstrates the complexity of physiological responses of plants to changes in water availability. Hydraulic dysfunction in plants has been purported to be the key mechanism behind drought-induced mortality provoking interest in hydraulic traits and critical thresholds of xylem physiological function. The capability of species to maintain hydraulic functionality under drought strongly influences the survival and general productivity towards water deficits. Hence, two core objectives, and subsequently aims, of this thesis are firstly to investigate the effect of drought on Subtropical Thicket vegetation health and productivity, and secondly to examine the underpinning physiological mechanisms and functional thresholds relaying speciesspecific drought vulnerability within this semi-arid biome. In first data chapter, this thesis offers an assessment of vegetation change under drought and its influence on plant physiological function and productivity across a subsection of Subtropical Thicket distribution. Additionally, this chapter provides a regional scale perspective of drought on Subtropical Thicket flora in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A severe anomalous dieback event, which coincided with extreme, accumulative drought conditions was observed in 2020. Employing a combination of field-based approaches and remote sensing, this chapter aimed to provide a comprehensive report of the extent and severity of crown defoliation and canopy dieback following this event, additionally describing predisposing and compounding factors. Based on Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration and Standardized Precipitation Indices this event began in 2015 and coincided with amplified temperatures, exacerbating evaporative demand. Aerial UAV surveys and field-based investigations were undertaken. Remotely sensed (RS) indices provided an avenue for extensive spatiotemporal investigations to uncover the extent of drought-related impact on vegetation productivity and discuss potential underpinning mechanisms behind drought-induced mortality in Subtropical Thicket. Leveraging long-term time series RS data, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellites as a proxy vegetation physiological status in combination with SPI and SPEI describing drought condition and groundbased surveying defining canopy vitality condition this study incidentally addressed the aim of endeavoring to link drought-induced mortality and early warning symptoms observed in the field with RS time series data to describe drought impacts across Subtropical Thicket

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Page publiée le 16 janvier 2023