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Abiotic Research

The most well-studied area in the region, due to its longevity, reputation and size, is the Kruger National Park. Some records date back to the proclamation of the Sabie Wildtuin in 1898. Much of the abiotic studies completed revolve around fire, burning regimes and their ramifications for the Park as a whole. The Mpumalanga Parks Board is conducting specific research on fire as a management tool in the north-eastern mountain Sourveld.

In the Kruger, there has also been a great deal of research done on the geology, geochemistry and geochronology of the Lebombo Mountains in the park. Other work includes soil studies, rainfall patterns and limnological research. There are currently around twenty officially-sanctioned research projects underway in the Kruger. These include ongoing efforts to monitor the condition of rivers (flow and silting rates; paths of water flow), and the impact of fire on the ecosystem. Other research concerns the levels of copper pollution in the Park, and analyses of the ecotoxicological effect of airborne chlorohydrocarbons and the deposition of their phytotoxic metabolites onto the vegetation. Another research effort is assessing the differences in nutrient supply between granite and basalt landscapes.

The Kruger management also has a wealth of Geographical Information Systems data concerning everything from topology, soil distribution and land cover to geology, planning zones and rainfall. Another good data source is available for weather and climate. The South African Weather Bureau mans a total of 60 weather stations within the Biosphere Reserve. They consist of one "first order" station, 7 x "second", 6 "third", 42 manual rainfall only stations and 4 automated electric temperature monitors. Three of the stations have been recording climatic conditions continuously since 1900, giving researchers a powerful baseline of data. Many of the farms and Nature Reserve stations also have rain gauges and thermometers that are not registered with the National Weather Bureau.

In the last decade, the Northern Province Department of Agriculture, Land and Environment has completed a geological survey of the Groot Letaba Game Reserve, a soil association study of Andover Game Reserve and a study into the effect of bush-clearing on the nutrient status in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve.

Mpumalanga Parks Board (MPB) has completed stream flow surveys, and wetland monitoring and rehabilitation research in its jurisdiction. The Province was used to prototype the new National Biomonitoring of Rivers scheme that started in 1998; subsequently this has been rolled out across the country. The project is driven by Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and the respective provincial conservation organisations and supported by others such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The emphasis is on the biological state of the rivers, however the hydrology and geomorphology is also taken into consideration.

In addition, the Water Research Commission is in the process of defining the protocols for a proposed Instream Flow Requirements Project being undertaken by the Rhodes University Institute for Water Research. It is starting to establish its footprint in the Biosphere area with the ambition of monitoring the conditions of the Reserve's riverine ecosystems on a continuous basis. The MPB is also involved in the River Health Programme.

Wits Rural Facility studied the feasibility of the Sand River Catchment Plan, commissioned by the Department of Water, Agriculture and Forestry. This developed into the Save the Sand river project, an initiative comprising a number of discrete activities.

A partnership between the Agricultural Research Council and the Range and Forage Institute has led to the establishment of a database of soil, temperature and rainfall details obtained from their sites since 1989. They have also completed a number of geological and soil surveys of local importance.

WRF's SUNRAE programme has plans to collaborate with Wits University Geography department to undertake a survey and monitoring programme of soil erosion in the communal rangelands of Bushbuckridge.

MPB would like to investigate the hydrology and veld condition relationships, vegetation dynamics, fire and climate relationships; and wetland rehabilitation.

KNP has recently revised their management plan (1999) and identified their abiotic research needs as - aspects relating to atmospheric systems, aquatic systems and terrestrial sytems with special reference to fire. All these needs relate to the development and refinement of 'thresholds of potential concern' (TPC's) as set out in their mangement plan. Managemnet orientated research is required for the management of soil erosion.