Biodiversity RESEARCH

BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION OF SPECIES AND ECOSYSTEMS

Biological diversity at all levels is being lost at an unprecedented rate, many referring to the observed losses as the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction episode. Factors such as habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation are influencing the distribution and abundance of species, often in ways that are impossible to predict. Conservation biology today faces a conundrum: how best to manage for species preservation and their habitats under rapidly changing and often unpredictable conditions. What is needed to help solve these challenges is conservation planning, based on accurate scientific data. For example, the impacts of fire, or lack thereof, in fire climax habitats are relatively well known, but the impacts in an already stressed, arid environment are not.

The presence or absence of large predators within a changing system is expected to trigger a cascade effect among animals and plants, one that will take decades of research to understand. The absence of lion (apex predators) will reduce predatory pressure on herbivores and, as a result, certain species may over-impact the vegetation. Limits of carrying capacities may be reached or exceeded, and movement reduced. Predator-prey avoidance will expect to have impacts on the trophic structure. The Tswalu divide between Korannaberg and Lekgaba provides the perfect opportunity to study cascade effects in a semi-arid environment.

Nowhere in the world do the benefits of cooperative breeding assist in the survival of a species as in arid environments. The need for increased search for food, nesting sites, anti-predator surveillance as well as the number of reduced breeding individuals to ensure the survival of progeny are not well understood. Age structure, behaviour relations between family members, reproductive success and interaction between dominant and sub-dominant animals in arid environments are poorly documented. Invertebrates have some of the greatest cooperative communal structures, the majority under-researched. Huge scope for research lies within arid-associated species.

Disease has the potential to impact species and populations on a global scale. Some diseases are endemic and/or indigenous, while others are introduced directly or via a series of exotic hosts.

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