Land-cover change in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve 1993-2006): A first step towards creating a conservation plan for the subregion.

22 September 2016

This paper is a first step towards a conservation plan for the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve K2C) on the South African Central Lowveld, quantifying the historical land-cover trends 1993-2006). During the analysis period, 36% of the biosphere reserve BR) underwent land-cover change. Settlement areas increased by 39.7%, mainly in rural areas, becoming denser, particularly along roadways. Human-Impacted Vegetation increased by 6.8% and Intact Vegetation declined by 7.3%, predominantly around settlement areas, which is testament to the interdependency between rural communities and the local environment. However, settlement expansion exceeded the rate of rangeland growth; in the long term, this may raise questions for sustainable resource extraction. Similarly, the block losses of intact vegetation are of concern; issues of fragmentation arise, with knock-on effects for ecosystem functioning. In the economic sector, agriculture increased by 51.9%, while forestry and mining declined by 7.1% and 6.3%, respectively. The future of these three sectors may also have significant repercussions for land-cover change in the BR. The identification of historical drivers, along with the chance that existing trends may continue, will have important implications for biodiversity protection in this landscape. Applied within a conservation-planning framework, these land-cover data, together with economic and biodiversity data, will help reconcile the spatial requirements of socio-economic development with those of conservation.