African Mountain Research Times - May 2018

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[Photo SJ Taylor. Sandstone surfaces on mountain north of Clarens, South Africa. April 2018].

Editorial - Transboundary conservation areas and their positive role in militarised interstate disputes

The above refers to an important paper by Barquet et al (2014) which is notable because it draws attention to the need for the quantitative analysis of often-vague opinions about the benefits of transboundary conservation areas. Often conservation areas are ‘marketed’ as a ‘good idea’, with the covert, or perhaps naïve thinking that ‘anything about nature conservation must be a good thing!’  However, this paper highlights the rather strenuous political issues linked to the establishment of some transboundary conservation areas (TBCA). Transboundary conservation areas are often placed in areas where there is a high biodiversity value, but also where there is a need for better border relations between neighbouring countries at risk of conflict. The general idea is that a TBCA improves relations between countries, even if they have engaged in militarised interstate disputes (MID), and allows them to build relationships that are outside of the issues over which they are at conflict. Barquet et al (2014) studied TBCA in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Their findings showed that countries which have experienced militarised conflicts are actually more likely to invest in TBCA than other countries sharing a land border. This does not hold true for countries that have engaged in serious and fatal MIDs (invasion, atrocities). TBPAs can be an effective peacebuilding mechanism but require time and commitment to realise this benefit. TBPAs require the building of trust, and the deployment of sound ways to use the protected areas for peace, for example, through enhancing the economic benefit of these areas with tourism. The economic value of these areas can influence regional politics and may be an important aspect in the political realisation of the TBPA. Finally, the peacekeeping outcome of transboundary conservation initiatives cannot be assumed and is not predetermined, but must be clearly addressed in the design and implementation of the park (Barguet et al, 2014).

BARGUET K., LUJALA, P. AND RØD J.K. (2014). Transboundary conservation and militarised interstate disputes. Political Geography 42: 1 – 11.


South Africa and investment in Transboundary Protected Areas

South Africa has invested significantly in Transboundary Protected Areas, also called Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) or so-called ‘Peace Parks.  There is the hope that these types of protected areas will stimulate economic develop through tourism, and will create to southern African political cooperation and stability. In the southern African region, SANParks (South African National Parks) is responsible for the implementation of the following transfrontier parks and transfrontier conservation areas:

  • |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (involving Namibia and South Africa)
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Botswana and South Africa)
  • Greater Mapungubwe TBCA  (also called the Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area) (between Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe)
  • Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (also called the South African-Mozambican-Zimbabwean Great Limpopo Park between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

In addition, SANParks is involved, together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, as a partner in the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area (Lesotho and South Africa). These areas are not without their challenges. The work of Büscher and van Amerom (2005 ) shows that the realisation of economic and other benefits from these types of transboundary arrangements are very fraught with difficulties, most often caused by power imbalances in the very relationships that these arrangements are meant to ‘harmonise’. They used the joint South African-Mozambican-Zimbabwean Great Limpopo Park as a case study, and argue that in reality the creation of Peace Parks hardly stimulates and possibly even undermines the realisation of the African Renaissance ideals of regional cooperation, emancipation, cultural reaffirmation, sustainable economic development and democratisation (Büscher and van Amerom, 2005).

This article deals with the linkages between two such concepts that have regional resonance - ‘Peace Parks’ and ‘African Renaissance’.  The African Renaissance was a Pan-Africanist measure to stimulate Africa’s development and create a new future for Africa, and had significant hopeful rhetoric in the early 2000s. So far, say Büscher and van Amerom (2005), the achievement of Peace Park benefits in South Africa has been severely hindered by domination of national interests, insufficient community consultation, and sensitive border issues such as the illegal flows of goods and migrants between South Africa and neighbouring countries. Furthermore, exacerbation of inter-state differences induced by power imbalances in the region, and harmonisation of land use and legal systems across boundaries, are increasingly becoming sources of conflict and controversy.  Thus, great care is needed to ensure that the investment, both in terms of funding, but also in terms of expectations created, does not give negative results (Büscher and van Amerom, 2005).

BÜSCHER B. AND VAN AMEROM M. 2005. Peace parks in Southern Africa: Bringers of an African Renaissance? Journal of Modern African Studies. 43(2). DOI10.1017/S0022278X05000790


Southern African mountain lichens continue to be very under-researched

Last month I once again visited the holiday town of Clarens, which is within sight of the Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary conservation area. I took many photographs of lichens on the walks that we did in the mountains around Clarens. The mountains are sandstone mountains, and there are many exposed areas of rock where the thin layer of soil and vegetation has worn away over time, leaving small islands of mosses, succulents, ferns and lichens – all of which sound as if they rely on permanent water, yet here are able to desiccate during winter when it no longer rains, and rehydrate in spring. I aim to find out more about these small ecosystems with their mats of vegetation. We also found a small pool (see photo below) which harboured a population of freshwater shrimps. We thought that this pool gets full sun all day, i.e. shallow, very warm water. Species have to be tough to survive this habitat, with a special strategy. The shrimps must breed (we saw them furiously attending to this task!) at the end of summer and produce drought-resistant eggs. The adults must surely die as the pool dries out, but the eggs hatch one there is water again. This shrimp population seems very isolated from other populations, and it would be interesting to research their distribution in the rainy season. The eggs are possibly transferred between pools on the feet of birds, for instance, to ensure outbreeding of these very restricted populations.

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Shallow sandstone pool (1m x 60 cm) near Clarens, containing water plants and about 200 freshwater shrimps (1 cm long) (April 2018). The females have a white egg sack.

Dr Michele Hamer from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) (Pretoria) has worked extensively with the crustaceans in fresh water pools in the Drakensberg system, and suggests that these are likely to be fairy shrimps in the genus Branchipodopsis which occur in many of the small rockpools and some of the larger tarns in the Drakensberg (see Hamer M. and Martens K. (1998). The Branchiopoda (Crustaceaa) from temporary habitats of the Drakensburg region, South Africa. Hydrobiologia 384: 151 – 165).

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Left: One of the shallow (now dry) rock pools and bordering vegetation, sandstone outcrop north of Clarens, South Africa (April 2018). 
Right: General dry and exposed sandstone landscape atop one of the mountains north of Clarens, Free State province, South Africa (April 2018).  


Status of herbarium collections of lichens in the Drakensberg, South Africa

I have also investigated whether the national collections of lichens are digitally searchable in South Africa, which they are, but it depends if there are specimens to search for. Much of the Drakensberg seems not to have been sampled, and admittedly, there are challenges as many lichen habitats are only accessible on foot, or by serious mountain climbing, or by helicopter.  On the other hand, a thorough study of moss distribution has been done by Van Rooy and Phephu (2013), locating centres of moss endemicity  (COE) across southern Africa (see an Rooy J. and Phephu N. (2016). Centres of moss diversity in southern Africa. Bry. Div. Evo. 38 (1): 027–039.  This study found that moss diversity in southern Africa is greatest in the Cape Fold Mountains of the southwestern Cape, and the Drakensberg mountains along the Great Escarpment of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces of South Africa. Five main, and five secondary centres of moss diversity were found to exist, based on the number of moss species per half-degree grid square in southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland). The main centres  in South Africa are thus the mountains of the Southwestern Cape, Outeniqua, Amathole, KwaZulu-Natal and associated with the Mpumalanga Drakensberg escarpment.  Jacques van Rooy suggested that it would be a very interesting study to determine the centres of endemicity for southern African lichens, and then to see if these COE overlap with the COE for mosses, and why. Indeed!

The South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) offers an online search service, but online searches that I have requested come up with no acquisitions for, for example, the Drakensberg Mountains. This is alarming as the Drakensberg is not an insignificant mountain in southern Africa, being part of the Great Escarpment.  SANBI has herbaria collections of lichens, but specimens are not fully representative of all (mountain) localities, and are not fully digitized for online searches. Bona fide researchers, upon motivation, are allowed to remove small samples of preserved lichens from the SANBI collection to do chemical profiling on selected herbarium specimens, says SANBI.  I am beginning a review paper now on the state of lichen research in South African mountains – and perhaps also extending to southern Africa, where I suspect the situation is even more dire.

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The lichen collection at SANBI, Pretoria, South Africa. Many of the lichens specimens are in the brown cardboard boxes. Access to the Cryptogam collection granted by SANBI, 2018.


Buying land to save species

See this amazing initiative to enable the purchase of key parcels of land to either link up a fragmented landscape or restore damaged lands to enable rare and endangered species to return and recover.


New publication

Milan, D.J., Heritage, G.L., Tooth, S., Entwistle, N. 2018. Morphodynamics of bedrock-influenced dryland rivers during extreme floods: insights from the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Geological Society of America Bulletin.

This is an interesting paper on monitoring change in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, has been published in the Geological Society of America Bulletin. The idea is that this technology and monitoring approach could be applied to mountain landscapes also at risk from catastrophic change [Ed,]. Research undertaken in South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP) has shown that some of the world's most sensitive and valuable riverine habitats are being destroyed due to an increasing frequency of cyclone-driven extreme floods. As part of a Natural Environmental Research Council (UK) funded project, researchers from the universities of Hull, Aberystwyth, and Salford and the engineering consultants "Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations, and Maintenance" (AECOM), used laser survey technology (LiDAR) flown from an aircraft, to measure the impacts of cyclone-driven extreme floods in 2000 and 2012 on rivers in the KNP. [These floods were the first for South African government to declare as ‘climate change’ impacts. Ed.]. The KNP game reserve has global significance for its habitats and associated species, and the rivers flowing through the park provide essential ecosystem services, including water and habitat in the shape of the many varied channel morphologies and associated riparian forest. The high-resolution data has been used to create accurate digital models of the riverbed, and through comparisons with pre-2012 flood data, they were able map detailed spatial patterns of erosion and deposition. [Also, rivers passing through the national park feed farmlands in the neighbouring country of Mozambique, so both biodiversity and livelihoods are at risk from this type of riparian change. Ed]