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Long Term Vegetation Cover Change in Semi arid South Africa

Paper Reviewed
Masubelele, M.L., Hoffman, M.T. and Bond, W.J. 2015. A repeat photograph analysis of long-term vegetation change in semi-arid South Africa in response to land use and climate. Journal of Vegetation Science 26: 1013-1023.

Desirous to know how the vegetation of the major biomes of southeastern South Africa may have changed since the 1950s and 60s due to changes in land use and climate, Masubelele et al. (2015) measured changes in the surface covers of grasses, dwarf shrubs, tall shrubs and alien plants -- based on matched "then and now" photograph pairs -- together with "detailed cover estimates recorded in the field." And what did they find by so doing?

The three researchers report that (1) "grass cover and total vegetation cover had increased by between 1.0% to 4.5% per decade and 2.0% to 4.5% per decade, respectively, in all biomes investigated." And they go on to say that (2) "these historical trajectories contrast [and we would add significantly] with the anticipated deterioration of cover projected for the region in response to negative land-use impacts such as overgrazing (Acocks, 1953), as well as climate-induced aridification (Midgley and Thuiller, 2011)."

And so we have another well-documented real-world example of enhanced vegetative cover (likely in response to atmospheric CO2 enrichment) occuring in a semi-arid region of the planet, even in the face of significant opposing forces (See many more other examples from prior reviews posted under the various subheadings of Greening of the Earth in our Subject Index).

Acocks, J.P.H. 1953. Veld types of South Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa 28: 1-192.

Midgley, G. and Thuiller, W. 2007. Potential vulnerability of Namaqualand plant diversity to anthropogenic climate change. Journal of Arid Environments 70: 615-628.

Posted 18 December 2015