Water regime requirements and possible climate change effects on Fynbos Biome Restionaceae
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The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of southern Africa is one of the world’s most unique biodiversity hotspots. However, this biodiversity continues to be threatened by habitat loss due to rapid urbanisation, agriculture and alien vegetation encroachment, and now, by future groundwater extraction and climate change. Previous work had shown that soil moisture is important in structuring wetland plant communities at fine-scale. What is not fully known, however, is how the spatial distribution of species at a local scale is related to soil hydrology and what the response in the future of species distributions will be to perturbations arising from changes in climate or subsurface moisture in the future. The current research investigated the water regime of the Restionaceae which is a key family in the Fynbos biome and the implications of possible changes in soil hydrology caused by climate change in communities within this region. The Restionaceae were particularly appropriate because they are shallow rooted perennials with the ability to tolerate a wide range of water regimes which allows them to successfully co-habit within mixed plant communities as segregated clusters along fine-scale hydrologic gradients. Vegetation survey counts for the presence of these species along with measurements of soil water table depth and moisture content data generated from eight small-scale plots (50 x 50 m) were used to investigate the possible hydrological niches and to envision the potential impacts of a substantial reduction in rainfall and an increase in temperature as projected by Global Climate Models (GCMs) on the structure of Restionaceae communities in seasonal wetlands by 2100. A comparative analysis of the effects of two extreme Representative Concentration emission Pathways (RCP2.6 and RCP8.5) on significant hydrological variables to plant water regimes was carried out. The IPCC AR5 report describes the RCP8.5 emissions scenario as the likely ‘business as usual’ scenario where emissions continue to rise through the 21st century while the RCP2.6 scenario assumes that emissions peak between 2010 and 2020 and substantially subside thereafter.