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Rhodes University (2016)

Assessing the potential impact of climate change in the south-eastern Great Escarpment, Southern Africa

Bentley, Luke Kinross

Titre : Assessing the potential impact of climate change in the south-eastern Great Escarpment, Southern Africa

Auteur : Bentley, Luke Kinross

Université de soutenance : Rhodes University

Grade : Master of Science (MS) 2016

Rapid, anthropogenic climate change is a contemporary phenomenon which is threatening natural ecosystems. Mountains are globally important, housing high levels of plant and animal biodiversity, as well as being important suppliers of water with 50% of mountainous regions being essential for the provision of water to downstream inhabitants. Owing to their importance, an assessment of the historical, current and potential impacts of climate change on the south-eastern Great Escarpment encompassing South Africa and Lesotho is necessary and is the primary aim of this thesis. In order to assess the historical and current impacts of climate change, historical rainfall records were collected from 78 sites throughout the Eastern Cape. These records were used to determine rainfall trends and trends in the frequency of daily extreme events. Climate change projections predict increasing trends in summer and annual rainfall, and a marginal increase to a slightly decreasing trend in winter rainfall, depending on if statistically downscaled or dynamically downscaled projections are examined. Extreme events are also predicted to increase in frequency. Results showed trends which generally agree with the predictions, except for extreme events for which there was insufficient data to support the projections. This has implications for farmers in the area and validates the downscaled Regional Climate Models (RCMs) to be used for the predictive analysis determining the potential future impacts of climate change on plant species’ distributions in the south-eastern Great Escarpment. In order to assess montane plant species to future climate predictions, occurrence records of 46 species were correlated to rainfall and temperature predictor variables and predictions for species richness and beta diversity were made for current and future climates. This predictive analysis used and compared two correlative species distribution modelling methods - one method used one correlating algorithm in a nuanced manner and the other method used five correlating algorithms in an ensemble. A trend of range restriction to higher elevations for the 46 species analysed was as expected from a warming climate. The nuanced, single algorithm modelling method produced less conservative models. The predicted trend of an elevational increase in montane vegetation in this region points to Lesotho and the Drakensberg highlands as being an important refugium for montane plant taxa of the southeastern Great Escarpment. The Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area hence needs to be expanded and its mandate properly enforced to protect this region adequately.

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