The desertification debate in South Africa has benefitted greatly in recent years from the contributions of a wide range of disciplines. In this paper we review the conflicting and supporting evidence for degradation in the eastern Karoo as reported in recent archaeological, historical, and stable carbon isotope studies as it relates to three key aspects of the debate: the precolonial environment, the rate and nature of change, and the relative contributions of humans and climate to the process. First, all studies suggest a greater grassiness at some time in the past, but researchers disagree on the timing of the switch to more shrubby conditions in the eastern Karoo. Second, regional rainfall records for the past 2 decades reveal an above-average rainfall period, and numerous long-term surveys show an increase in grass cover over the same period. These findings question the expanding Karoo hypothesis as well as the argument that the Karoo’s carrying capacity has decreased in recent years. Finally, the relative responsibilities of humans and climate in the degradation process remain poorly understood and generally have not formed the focus of investigation.
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- Desertification of the Eastern Karoo, South Africa: Conflicting Paleoecological, Historical, and Soil Isotopic Evidence
M. T. Hoffman
W. J. Bond
W. D. Stock
- Springer Netherlands
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