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Grahamstown, South Africa

The South African Environmental Observation Network is a science network of people, organisations and, most importantly observation platforms, that perform Long-Term Ecological Research in South Africa and its surrounding oceans. The SAEON is of global importance as an innovative approach in ecology to understand environmental change and to determine the impact of anthropogenic forces at multiple scales but it is a remarkably complex challenge to statistically discern between ubiquitous natural variability and exogenous forcing. The SAEON constitutes a national government response to the World Summit on Sustainable Development and is a component of the GEO . The SAEON has become the leader in environmental science and observation in South Africa but has been criticised for taking a long time to establish, a situation which was inevitable in view of SAEON's multiple stakeholder corps. It has also been raised that the cost of replicated experimental treatments across SAEON sites will be high Wikipedia.

Bond W.,South African Environmental Observation Network | Bond W.,University of South Africa | Zaloumis N.P.,University of South Africa
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Africa has the most extensive C4 grassy biomes of any continent. They are highly flammable accounting for greater than 70% of the world’s burnt area. Much of Africa’s savannas and grasslands occur in climates warm enough and wet enough to support closed forests. The combination of open grassy systems and the frequent fires they support have long been interpreted as anthropogenic artefacts caused by humans igniting frequent fires. True grasslands, it was believed, would be restricted to climates too dry or too cold to support closed woody vegetation. The idea that higher-rainfall savannas are anthropogenic and that fires are of human origin has led to initiatives to ‘reforest’ Africa’s open grassy systems paid for by carbon credits under the assumption that the net effect of converting these system to forests would sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate global warming. This paper reviews evidence for the antiquity of African grassy ecosystems and for the fires that they sustain. Africa’s grassy biomes and the fires that maintain them are ancient and there is no support for the idea that humans caused large-scale deforestation. Indicators of old-growth grasslands are described. These can help distinguish secondary grasslands suitable for reforestation from ancient grasslands that should not be afforested. © 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Source

Kerwath S.E.,Fisheries Research and Development | Kerwath S.E.,University of Cape Town | Winker H.,University of Cape Town | Gotz A.,South African Environmental Observation Network | Attwood C.G.,University of Cape Town
Nature Communications

Potential fishery benefits of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are widely acknowledged, yet seldom demonstrated, as fishery data series that straddle MPA establishment are seldom available. Here we postulate, based on a 15-year time series of nation-wide, spatially referenced catch and effort data, that the establishment of the Goukamma MPA (18 km alongshore; 40 km 2) benefited the adjacent fishery for roman (Chrysoblephus laticeps), a South African endemic seabream. Roman-directed catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) in the vicinity of the new MPA immediately increased, contradicting trends across this species' distribution. The increase continued after 5 years, the time lag expected for larval export, effectively doubling the pre-MPA CPUE after 10 years. We find no indication that establishing the MPA caused a systematic drop in total catch or increased travel distances for the fleet. Our results provide rare empirical evidence of rapidly increasing catch rates after MPA implementation without measurable disadvantages for fishers. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. Source

Owen-Smith N.,University of Witwatersrand | Goodall V.,South African Environmental Observation Network
Journal of Zoology

Daily activity schedules and time budgets reveal how animals cope with changing environmental conditions in securing food and evading enemies. Theory suggests that animals in populations limited by food availability should be energy maximizers in their foraging time allocation, while those regulated by predation should minimize their mobile activity levels. We compared daily and seasonal variation in activity states among three species of grazing ungulates coexisting in the same region of Kruger National Park, South Africa, and for one of these species between regions differing in rainfall. These grazers differed in body size and digestive physiology, potentially affecting their activity patterns. Hourly movement rates recorded by GPS telemetry were partitioned among activity states by applying independent mixture models. All three species showed activity peaks during the early morning and late afternoon, while resting prevailed pre-dawn as well as through midday. African buffalo showed the strongest diel variation in activity and greatest depression of midday activity, consistent with their large body size. Buffalo maintained similar levels of activity through the day and night, while zebra and sable antelope showed higher levels of diurnal than nocturnal activity. During the late dry season, zebra and coexisting sable, but not buffalo, showed elevated foraging and total mobile activity. Zebra devoted more time to foraging than both ruminants, consistent with greater food intake requirements for hindgut digestion. Sable antelope inhabiting the region with higher rainfall showed similar activity levels to the sable herd in the drier area, but slower rates of movement while foraging and travelling and less elevation in foraging time towards the end of the dry season. Observed patterns indicated subtly changing interplay among different constraints bearing on activity patterns over the diel and seasonal cycles, especially those related to digestive physiology. Simplistic concepts of energy maximization or time minimization were not supported. © 2014 The Zoological Society of London. Source

Bond W.J.,South African Environmental Observation Network
Frontiers in Plant Science

Modern flammable ecosystems include tropical and subtropical savannas, steppe grasslands, boreal forests, and temperate sclerophyll shrublands. Despite the apparent fiery nature of much contemporary vegetation, terrestrial fossil evidence would suggest we live in a time of low fire activity relative to the deep past. The inertinite content of coal, fossil charcoal, is strikingly low from the Eocene to the Pleistocene and no charcoalified mesofossils have been reported for the Cenozoic. Marine cores have been analyzed for charcoal in the North Pacific, the north and south Atlantic off Africa, and the south China sea. These tell a different story with the oldest records indicating low levels of fire activity from the Eocene but a surge of fire from the late Miocene (~7 Ma). Phylogenetic studies of woody plants adapted to frequent savanna fires show them beginning to appear from the Late Miocene with peak origins in the late Pliocene in both South American and African lineages. Phylogenetic studies indicate ancient origins (60 Ma+) for clades characteristic of flammable sclerophyll vegetation from Australia and the Cape region of South Africa. However, as for savannas, there was a surge of speciation from the Late Miocene associated with the retreat of closed fire-intolerant forests. The wide geographic spread of increased fire activity in the last few million years suggests a global cause. However, none of the potential global factors (oxygen, rainfall seasonality, CO2, novel flammable growth forms) provides an adequate explanation as yet. The global patterns and processes of fire and flammable vegetation in the Cenozoic, especially since the Late Miocene, deserve much more attention to better understand fire in the earth system. © 2015 Bond. Source

Allsopp N.,South African Environmental Observation Network
African Journal of Range and Forage Science

Many of the intransigent problems facing the world arise in complex systems. In this paper, I propose that communal rangelands in South Africa be recognised as complex social-ecological systems and that one of the reasons that development initiatives have had little impact on improving livelihoods and rangeland condition is that interventions have been based on reductionist thinking that has failed to recognise non-linearities and uncertainties in the system. This complexity resides in ecological, social and economic components of the system, and is characterised by dynamics operating at different scales within and beyond the boundaries of the rangelands. People and the environment are vulnerable to change in these systems from factors such as changing climate, economics, governance arrangements, as well as disasters. Policy that promotes adaptability and resilience, and is itself responsive to changing dynamics, should be sought. Complex systems modelling with an inclusive group of stakeholders holds potential for realising such policy. © 2013 Copyright NISC (Pty) Ltd. Source

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