Citing big trends that range from worldwide patterns of wildfires to simplifying complex systems, Stellenbosch University biodiversity and global change science expert Professor Guy Midgley explains why we're all 'guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment'.
Q: Last week we learnt that Jurassic-era cycads are set to reproduce amid unprecedented heating in the UK. What obvious stories of heating is South African biodiversity giving us?
A: In the early 2000s, I worked with my colleague [conservation biologist] Wendy Foden to study the quiver tree, which we chose for its visibility in surrounding vegetation, the fact that its skeleton stays standing as evidence of mortality, as well as its huge geographic range extending from Nieuwoudtville, a little north of Cape Town, all the way up to Brandberg in Namibia. Wendy showed there was much higher mortality in warmer parts of the quiver tree's geographic range extending from the Gariep Basin towards Namibia.
In the south, near Nieuwoudtville, its population was expanding like mad, with a huge increase in juveniles and recently established individuals. We concluded that its range might even be able to shift towards the south into areas where it appears not to have existed before. Sometimes called the "fingerprint of...