People flock to mountains, research shows

2020-02-05 06:00
Dr João Vidal

Dr João Vidal

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Research findings by Dr João Vidal affirm that the most rapid population growth zones in Africa are in or around mountains, coinciding with United Nations (UN) data projections.

Vidal is a post­doctoral research fellow in the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) and the Department of Geography of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Qwaqwa campus.

His research highlights the importance of managing these mountain ecosystems sustainably to maintain the benefits to such a growing population.

According to UN data projections for 2100, sub-Saharan Africa is set to experience a demographic explosion.

Vidal is conducting this study in partnership with Dr Ralph Clark, director of the ARU on the UFS Qwaqwa campus. As a mountain ecologist, his recent research is centred on developing indicators for monitoring biodiversity change in Southern African mountains.

This is a collaborative research project with the South African Environmental Observation Network (Saeon), Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the University of Pretoria (UP).

Human population growth, as predicted for Southern Africa, has several implications for natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.

All of Africa’s important rivers originate in mountainous areas.

Vidal advocates the sustainable management of African mountain landscapes.

“This is vital for the sustained provision of quality water in suitable quantities. Water is already limited in some places.

“This year we are facing another drought in South Africa, and if it were not for the mountains, it could have been much worse.

“The long-term resilience of Southern African mountains and their ecosystem services should be an absolute priority for both research and conservation.”

Furthermore, through his research, Vidal aims to understand the socio-ecological functioning of montane grasslands in order to encourage a science-policy-action interface for their sustainable management in a changing world.

“Southern Africa has one of the highest proportions of grassland-dominated mountains in the world, comparable only to Central Asia.”

Since global mountain research is focused on forest-dominated mountains, Vidal and his collaborators develop specific tools to track climate change in grassy mountains.

“As it gets warmer, certain communities of grasses may retract towards higher elevations because they need a certain minimum temperature to survive,” he mentions, as an example.

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