10 April 2008

Namibia: Plants in Sperrgebiet Area At Risk

Windhoek — A LOCAL environmentalist has warned that the Sperrgebiet, the only arid biodiversity hotspot in the world, could soon face a severe species extinction crisis because of climate change.

Pierre du Plessis, an environmental consultant with the Centre for Research Information Action for Development in Africa (CRIAA SA-DC), said the Succulent Karoo Biome - a unique vegetation area that includes the Sperrgebiet - was especially vulnerable to climate change.

Du Plessis recently held a public talk in Windhoek on the impact of climate change on park management in Namibia.

He said Succulent Karoo plants are adapted to winter rainfall and it is predicted that climate change will shift winter rainfall towards the South Pole, denying plants the cool, wet weather needed for seed to grow.

In the long term this could cause these plants to go extinct.

The Sperrgebiet has the highest diversity of succulent plants in the world - about 2 000 endemic species.

A succulent is a plant with thick fleshy leaves or stems that store water.

An endemic plant or animal occurs nowhere else in the world.

The Sperrgebiet is Namibia's priority area under the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (Skep), a cross-border partnership with South Africa funded under the global biodiversity hotspots programme of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

Du Plessis said many species in protected areas can only survive climate change by moving, and therefore buffer zones and corridors should be created so that they can move when it becomes necessary.

In cases like the Sperrgebiet it may be necessary to actively help them move, he added.

To cope with climate change impacts, park managers must limit all non-climate stresses in protected areas, he said.

They should strive to increase natural resilience by reducing the number of 'simultaneous insults' to ecosystems and by preventing over-population and over-grazing through timely relocation or culling during boom cycles.

Du Plessis said climate change was inevitable and already affecting the world's biodiversity.

A study conducted in 2003 on 1 700 species showed range boundaries, breeding, flowering and migration had changed due to climatic conditions.

A separate analysis of 143 studies found 80 per cent of species studied had already changed as predicted by climate change theory.

A recent study done by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) showed this was also true in Namibia.

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