The impact of megafaunal loss and climate change on ecosystem functions in aridland ephemeral river systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology

Abstract

Ephemeral river systems refer to rivers that only visibly contain water for a few weeks in a year, at most.
This is usually because they are situated in hot, dry climates with very little rainfall. As such they are
invaluable to communities of humans and wildlife alike, because of the relative scarcity of water available
to them from other sources. Namibia has 12 of these ephemeral rivers running through the country, which
support rich and unique vegetation, provide agricultural services, and act as an oasis for migrating and
endemic megafauna populations (Jacobson et al , 1995).
Unfortunately, charismatic megafauna (terrestrial vertebrates heavier than 1000kg, Owen-Smith, 1988) is
an uncommon sight in most of the Namibian rivers now, largely due to hunting and other human-wildlife
conflicts. This is bad news from a conservation perspective, but also from an economic perspective, as
wildlife tourism contributes a significant amount towards Namibia's revenue (Jacobson et al , 1995). It
does provide a unique opportunity for experimentation, however. With similar river systems having
megafauna persist in some but not others, we can compare the disparity of ecological processes between
the rivers, with relatively clear cause and effect.
My PhD involves investigating the differences between these river systems using remote sensing data. It
should also yield new data on the ecological roles of certain large animals using these systems,
particularly elephants and giraffes.
Modelling of climate effects are also a key component of this study for 2 reasons. The first pertains to the
prevalence of ephemeral river systems in drylands, as expected changes to rainfall frequency and intensity,
resulting from climate change, may drive other temporary rivers to become classed as 'ephemeral'
(Larned et al, 2010; Tooth and Nanson, 2011). The second pertains to the relationship between climate
and ecosystem. How the projected rainfall changes influence ephemeral river hydrology may be somewhat
understood, but how said changes influence ecological processes within aquifer dependent ecosystems are
not (Eamus et al, 2006; Colvin et al, 2007). Thus, investigating rainfall change in these systems is integral
to this project.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/P012345/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2023
2285958 Studentship NE/P012345/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2023 William Farren