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The capability of the Mfabeni Peatland to respond to climatic and land-use stresses, and its role in sustaining discharge to downstream and adjacent ecosystems
Expanded Title:The Mfabeni Peatland is an example of a dynamic ecosystem that is adapting, to a changing environment. By understanding the processes driving its formation and evolution, it is hoped to contribute toward future ecological conservation of wetlands, and peatlands in particular. The Mfabeni Peatland is a groundwater dependant ecosystem that was formed in the Late Pleistocene age. A consistent and permanent discharge of groundwater into this peatland, has allowed the uninterrupted formation of peat for millenia. The adjacent wetlands with inputs from the peatland groundwater sources are buffered against climatic variability, and are therefore the least vulnerable to changes in climate. Hydrological processes are a key component in the development and maintenance of wetlands. The source of water determines their vulnerability to a changing landscape and environment. The overall objective of this study was to investigate the ecosystem processes that regulate water supply in the St Lucia wetland complex, with particular reference to the Mfabeni Peatland. Specific objectives included: 1) Construction of a rigorous water balance on the Mfabeni Peatland-coastal dune complex; 2) Quantification of the nature, magnitude and persistence of water efflux to the estuarine system; 3) Evaluation of the potential effects of changing climate and land use practices, especially plantations, on the water dynamics of the system. Measured rainfall indicated the general trend of wetter summer months compared to drier months. The efflux of Mfabeni responds rapidly to rainfall events. The greatly reduced annual groundwater flow, in comparison to annual rainfall, indicates the importance of evapotranspiration and groundwater losses. Water efflux from the western inland dune complex provides substantial recharge towards Mfabeni. In addition, coastward hydraulic gradients from the dune complex, through the wetland, are evident. However, only a small portion of groundwater from the inland dunes is flowing through the mire towards the coast in the east. The major portion of groundwater from the inland dunes is discharged southwards into Lake St Lucia. Various land use changes threaten the Wetlands, including peatlands, in general and coastal peatland swamp forests in particular. Mfabeni is at risk as a result of Eucalyptus plantations; subsistence and commercial cultivation practices in and around the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and infrastructure development such as roads and tourism related activities. Peat surface oscillation (PSO) (swelling and shrinking) of the Mfabeni Peatland occurs during wet and dry periods respectively. Th isffects water table dynamics which controls the nature of water movement through the peat which influences the hydrological, ecological and biogeochemical processes. The ability of the Mfabeni Peatland to sustain efflux to adjacent and downstream ecosystems during dry periods should be evaluated against the different mechanisms contributing to PSO. Understanding the functioning of these systems and their response to a changing environment will influence future management and utilization practices. A set of general and specific guidelines have been drafted to support sustainable management of peatlands in Maputaland. But, further discussion is necessary with interested parties in order to establish ownership and institute a sound cooperative management framework between involved roleplayers. The sensitive nature of these ecosystems, the socio-economic needs of communities depending on them and sensible land use practices all need to be accommodated.
Date Published:27/01/2013
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:Ecosystem - Biodiversity protection, Ecosystem - Climate Change
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Standard
WRC Report No:1857/1/12
ISBN No:978-1-44312-0357-4
Authors:Grundling P; Price JS; Grootjans AP; Ellery WN
Project No:K5/1857
Organizations:University of Free State, department of Agricultural Economics; University of Waterloo, Canada; Rhodes University; Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherland; University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Document Size:8 992 KB
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