Impact of Anthropogenic Climate Change on the Vegetation of the Soutpansberg Region of South Africa
Kephe, Priscilla Ntuchu
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The aim of this study was to assess the impact of anthropogenic climate change on the plant biodiversity with a primary focus on the geographical area of the Soutpansberg region of South Africa. It is of primary importance to establish the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the vegetation of Soutpansberg in order to preserve the natural state of vegetation as much as possible. However, it has been noted on several studies that indigenous plant species will not only diminish due to climate change but also due to incorrect forest management The releve method was adapted and used to assess the structure and composition of vegetation in each of the delineated areas (North West - NW; North East - NE; South West - SW; South East - SE; Centre - SE) of the Soutpansberg. Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing technology was further utilised to assess the vegetation cover qver time in the study area as well as classifying the vegetation change over time into various classes. Climate data; rainfall and temperature were assessed for pattern, distribution, variability and associated them to the occurrence of different plant life forms found across the Soutpansberg Mountain range. The results obtained indicated that there is a high variation in vegetation composition, density and species richness as the rainfall and temperature varies across the mountain range. Within the delineated areas of the Soutpansberg: NW; NE; SW; SE; Centre, vegetation richness and density were assessed. The richness and density at the Centre was found to be above 80% with forest cover still very much intact. This was followed by the SE with about 75 % of natural forest cover , the SW which is fast making a transition from forest to woodland while the NE has become more of woodland with a scattered forest layer; the NW which is composed of grassland and thickets. Furthermore the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NOVI) values from remotely sensed images indicate a change in vegetation vigour across the years and across the mountain from east to west corresponding in line with observed climate variability. A classification of the vegetation of the Soutpansberg using unsupervised classification, categorized the vegetation into 10-13 functional types. The functional type classification provided the opportunity for undertaking analyses to develop an understanding of the vegetation change over time through image to image subtraction (change detection). The results provide evidence of vegetation change in the study area and also that as time passes with little or no actions taken to curb anthropogenic climate change effects on vegetation, indigenous plant species will diminish. Of more significance, is the fact that the richness amongst different life forms in the same mountain range is explained by different climatic factors (rainfall and temperature), indicating that rainfall and temperature affect the coexistence of different vegetation types and have a different effect on different life forms. Results confirmed that anthropogenic climate change affect the vegetation of the Soutpansberg with such effects varying across the mountain and the magnitude changes over time and space. These effects resulted in decrease in biomass and vigour of indigenous vegetation across the range with time.
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