Research

The K2C Biosphere Region has been the focus of a long history of environmental research, which is actively growing. The diverse ecosystems and starkly contrasting land uses in the Region have attracted a range of scientists, from ecologists to sociologists to economics. Today, the Region is one of the major focal areas for research in the fields of rural livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and global climate change.


The Kruger National Park is the flagship for ecological research, not only in the region but in the whole of Africa; with a long history of research on how best to manage large conservation areas. Earlier research focussed mainly on describing the thousands of species and ecosystem types that occur in the park, as well as globally-acclaimed research on game capture and translocation.


Today, the Park has over 100 active research projects, mostly conducted by university students and professors, on topics that span the full breadth of ecology. The experimental burn plots established throughout the park in the early 1950's constitute one of the oldest ecological experiments in Africa. Results from this experiment have resulted in key developments in the management of fire, both inside Kruger Park and neighbouring private reserves.


The Park also contains the only two sites in the country where the movement of carbon dioxide between the vegetation and atmosphere is measured. The data produced by the high-tech instrumentation at these sites allows scientists to determine the role that Africa plays in the global carbon cycle information that is crucial for accurate forecasting of the global climate change.

 Both inside the Park, and in neighbouring private game reserves, veld condition assessments have been conducted for nearly 2 decades, by scientific staff in the Park and the Agricultural Research Council. These have allowed for the proper management of wildlife, and prevent over-grazing.


Currently, the Park is expanding its monitoring to include all aspects of biodiversity, in-line with the new paradigm of managing for biodiversity in protected areas.


In the rural areas nestled side-by-side with the conservation areas in the Region, a long history of research also exists, in the fields of sociology and social-ecology. Concerns over the livelihoods of the millions of low-income, rural people who inhabit these areas have prompted research on the sustainable use of natural resources from communal lands. Much of this has emanated from the WITS Rural Facility, a satellite campus of the University of the Witwatersrand located between private game reserves and the rural villages in the Acornhoek/ Bushbuckridge area.


This facility focuses on human-environment interactions, and has hosted hundreds of university students from local and international universities. WITS Rural also houses a number of large research projects active in the area, including SUNRAE (Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and the environment), AWARD (an NGO that aims to promote sustainable management of the Sand River catchment) and RADAR (Rural AIDS and Development Action Research Program). Linked to the latter program is the nearby Agincourt Hospital research program, led by the WITS School of Public Health


This massive social research program has surveyed 12 000 households every year since 1992, and has generated a wealth of data that is used to better understand the impacts of HIV/AIDS on rural people in the region.


In addition to these larger programs, countless post-graduate research projects have been conducted throughout the region. Topics range from the behaviour of the more charismatic animal inhabitants of the region, such as leopards, elephants and lions, to larger-scale projects that use satellite imagery to study the response of ecosystems to the weather or to different types of land management. However, scientists have realized that longer-term projects are required to understand the major environmental changes occurring in the Region, as well as synthesize the plethora of student projects.


The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) recently established a Node at Phalaborwa that aims to deal with this research need. SAEON is a government-funded research facility whose primary mandate is to provide long-term data on environmental changes occurring the country. The SAEON Ndlovu Node has established or supports a number of long-term research sites in the Region, in both protected areas and rural areas. This will provide a stream of basic environmental data that will show long-term trends as the ecosystems, and socio-ecological systems in the Region respond to global change factors, such as climate change and land-use change. This data also provides an opportunity for visiting university academics to conduct more informed and focused short-term studies.


Finally, freshwater is a major environmental issue in the region, and the monitoring of the water flow and quality in the major rivers of the region has been undertaken by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry for decades, while the biodiversity of these rivers has been monitored through the Rivers Health Program, as well as by scientific staff within the Kruger National Park.


Pollution from the large mines at Phalaborwa has been closely monitored by the mining companies themselves, as part of their environmental impact management obligations.


To help faclitate and coordinate reserach within the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region, K2C have established a Research Forum that brings all primary research facilities in the region, together on a regular basis.  For more info visit our FORUMS and follow the links to the RESEARCH FORUM information page.