RESEARCH THEMES

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN A SEMI-ARID ENVIRONMENT

During Earth’s long history, natural processes such as variations in solar radiation, orbital vicissitudes and even continental drift caused changes in temperature and rainfall patterns and inevitably impacted on biodiversity and species patterns and abundances. Climate change is thus regarded by many as a natural phenomenon.

More recently however, human actions (most notably the emission of greenhouse gasses) have accelerated the rate of climate change, leading to an unprecedented negative impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Even a 2°C warming can have a devastating effect on biodiversity, resulting in cascading effects and tipping points. Understanding impacts on biodiversity (including extinctions, range shifts, changes in distributions, hybridization and inter-species competition) and predicting threats to ecosystem services (health and food security) and extreme climate events (drought, flooding) is essential for biodiversity conservation, especially in the Kalahari, a region which is expected to show the first signs of actual die-offs and the impact of climate change.

Living in an arid environment requires many adaptions to survive. Different species adapt differently and interact with their environment in different ways. Identifying these adaptions within and between species is vital, in order to understand the long-term survival of species and ultimately the resilience of ecosystems. Tswalu provides a unique experiment in that it has been under conservation management for many years, compared with land newly designated from farming to conservation. In areas where land is overgrazed, the aridness scale is expected to be more severe.

 

  • What are the key indicators and markers for rates of change (actual versus hypothetical)?
  • Physiologically, how are different species adapted to an ever-harsher environment?
  • What are the tipping points for different species?
  • How have species adapted under different management practices?
  • How do different species adapt under different climate circumstances?
  • What are the tipping points for the various species?
  • How do different species react to living in an arid environment?
  • How do species react to the different seasons and associated climatic conditions?
  • Which species are better adapted, and how?
  • How do species living in the Kalahari use mutualistic relationships in order to survive?
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