Environmental History, Biodiversity & Climate Change

The environmental history of a place is important to its biodiversity.

South Africa

Scientists studying the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa which is incredibly rich in species mapped the distributions of nearly all of the region’s 9400 plant species, from the king protea to the red disa.

A King Protea Credit Colin Beale

A King Protea Credit Colin Beale

An international team of researchers – including scientists from the University of York (UK), Nelson Mandela University and the University of Cape Town – took part in the work. They found that the region’s richness could be largely explained by the fact it had not experienced major changes in its climate over the past 140,000 years.

Dr Colin Beale from the Department of Biology at the University of York, Co-author of the study,said:

“The results suggest that climatic variation will not affect the biodiversity of all regions evenly.

“The impact of climate change may be greater on areas where stability has been the norm over extremely long time periods.

“Similarly, near major ecological boundaries, such as forest to grasslands or shrub lands to semi-desert, climate change is likely to cause major, long-lasting loss of biological diversity.”

The forked watsonia credit Richard Cowling

The forked watsonia credit Richard Cowling

A degree of climatic stability enabled the same broad type of ecosystem to persist in an area. This  supported species adapted to that ecosystem.

Dr Richard Cowling from Nelson Mandela University, Senior author, explained:

“Our study shows that the environmental stability of south-western South Africa, in conjunction with the region’s rugged topography, explains diversity gradients in the region. “

South America

Conservation, the stability of an ecosystem, the rights of indigenous people and the commercial exploitation of vast swathes of land in the Amazon are all impacting on the global threat of climate change.

“the notion of wilderness is rooted in Western and idealized visions of a pristine nature devoid of the destructive impacts of human activity” Reframing the Wildneress Concept

Conservationists and indigenous peoples have been urged to work together by Dr. Fernández-Llamazares, the University of Helsinki, in Reframing the Wilderness Concept.

He said:

“There is no doubt that the Amazon is at a crossroads in its social-ecological history.

“Rollbacks on environmental protections and Indigenous Peoples rights across the entire region are opening up vast natural areas to new external pressures.”

 “With over 300 Indigenous groups and more species of plants and animals recorded than in any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, the Amazon is considered a global hotspot of biocultural diversity and a classic example of how the presence of humans can be intricately linked to certain positive environmental outcomes.” Reframing the Wilderness Concept

Indigenous territories in the region act as a buffer against deforestation.  The lands account for less than 15% of all the forest loss occurring within the Amazon’s last wilderness frontiers – islands of biological and cultural diversity in the larger landscape.


Prof. Eduardo S. Brondizio, a researcher from Indiana University Bloomington and senior author of the paper, said:

“The concept of wilderness has a contentious history across much of the Global South, as it is based on the assumption that humans have inherently negative impacts on nature.

“Yet, the Amazon is a classic example of how long-term interactions between Indigenous peoples and forests can be linked to positive environmental outcomes.

“We have known for decades that a significant portion of the region’s supposedly pristine forests are in fact cultural forests.

“Indigenous peoples, and also other traditional communities, show that it is possible to successfully combine forest conservation, management and agroforestry systems.”

“Plant richness, turnover and evolutionary diversity track gradients of stability and ecological opportunity in a megadiversity centre” is published in PNAS. The research was carried out by the University of York, the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Durham University and Kew Gardens.

Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation

Proteas in Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens with natural vegetation on Table Mountain behind. credit Colin Beale

Proteas in Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens with natural vegetation on Table Mountain behind. credit Colin Beale

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

1 reply »

Leave a Reply