Vulnerability of South African animal taxa to climate change

Barend F.N. Erasmus, Albert S. Van Jaarsveld, Steven L. Chown, Mrigesh Kshatriya, Konrad J. Wessels

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The responsiveness of South African fauna to climate change events is poorly documented and not routinely incorporated into regional conservation planning. We model the likely range alterations of a representative suite of 179 animal species to climate change brought about by the doubling of CO 2 concentrations. This scenario is expected to cause a mean temperature increase of 2 °C. We applied a multivariate climate envelope approach and evaluated model performance using the most comprehensive bird data set. The results were encouraging, although model performance was inconsistent in the eastern coastal area of the country. The levels of climate change induced impacts on species ranges varied from little impact to local extinction. Some 17% of species expanded their ranges, 78% displayed range contraction (4-98%), 3% showed no response and 2% became locally extinct. The majority of range shifts (41%) were in an easterly direction, reflecting the east-west aridity gradient across the country. Species losses were highest in the west. Substantially smaller westward shifts were present in some eastern species. This may reflect a response to the strong altitudinal gradient in this region, or may be a model artifact. Species range change (composite measure reflecting range contraction and displacement) identified selected species that could act as climate change indicator taxa. Red-data and vulnerable species showed similar responses but were more likely to display range change (58% vs. 43% for all species). Predictions suggest that the flagship, Kruger National Park conservation area may loose up to 66% of the species included in this analysis. This highlights the extent of the predicted range shifts, and indicates why conflicts between conservation and other land uses are likely to escalate under conditions of climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-693
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation
  • Fragmentation
  • Land-use
  • Range contraction

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