Why plants need an identity.

May 24, 2018 2.54pm SAST Author Marianne Le Roux e-Flora Coordinator, South African National Biodiversity Institute Disclosure statement Marianne Le Roux works for the South African National Biodiversity Institute. I am a Research Associate at the University of Johannesburg. Partners The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. Berzelia stokoei, one of the 3% of plants in South Africa that are found nowhere else in the world. Marinda Koekemoer Plant experts in South Africa have a challenging deadline to meet: gather everything that’s known about the country’s 21 000 indigenous plant species into a formal online record by 2020. Fortunately they are well on their way. It’s not just an academic exercise; it’s to help preserve the world’s biological diversity. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) – also helped in this effort by volunteers – has an important contribution to make as a member of the World Flora Online(WFO) Consortium. The 41-member group is creating a central record of the world’s plants by 2020. This list, known as a Flora, is a description of all species and where they are found. The online Flora project addresses three problems that stand in the way of plant species conservation. One is that some plants have not yet been scientifically named. Without a name, they can’t be part of a conservation plan. The second problem is that names can change and multiply, creating confusion for researchers and managers. Thirdly, there is no single collection of information about all the world’s plants. Why names matter Whenever a new plant species or any other living organism is discovered, it must be named. Through formal naming (the process of taxonomy), a species is clearly defined and described. Its definitive characteristics are highlighted along with its relationships to other species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature evaluates the risk of extinction of species and informs conservation plans, policies and legislation. But it can only do so for formally recognised living organisms. It can’t protect an undescribed species. Taxonomy is not a static science. As more information becomes available, taxonomists try to improve classifications. Sometimes they rename species but not everyone uses the same name. Consistent naming is important because names should precisely match the properties of organisms. Environmental managers need this information to guide...

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AFRICA’S OLDEST BAOBABS DYING OFF IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

AFRICA’S OLDEST BAOBABS DYING OFF IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees — some dating back to the ancient Greeks — have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, researchers said on Monday. Source The Citizen | Tuesday, 12 June 2018, 10:29 A baobab tree. NATIONAL NEWS – The trees, aged between 1 100 and 2 500 years and some as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. “We report that nine of the 13 oldest […] individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude”. “It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author, Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”. Further research is needed “to support or refute this supposition”, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States. Between 2005 and 2017, the researchers probed and dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs — more than 60 individuals in all. Collating data on girth, height, wood volume and age, they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the very oldest and biggest trees died during the study period. All were in southern Africa — Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. The baobab is the biggest and longest-living flowering tree, according to the research team. It is found naturally in Africa’s savannah region and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced. It is a strange-looking plant, with branches resembling gnarled roots reaching for the sky, giving it an upside-down look. The iconic tree can live to be 3 000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat. ‘Difficult to kill’ “One ancient hollow baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk,” says the park. “Various baobabs have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn and a bus shelter.” The tree serves as a massive store of water, and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans. Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven...

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Invasive alien plants in South Africa pose huge risks, but they can be stopped

Invasive alien plants in South Africa pose huge risks, but they can be stopped

The anniversary of the Great Knysna Fire of 2017 highlights once again the problems associated with alien invasive species. The following article was published by the University of Stellenbosh. April 18, 2018 3.35pm SAST Authors Stephen Cousins PhD student in Conservation Ecology, Stellenbosch University Elzanne Singels PhD candidate in the Archaeology Department , University of Cape Town Tineke Kraaij Reseacher and lecturer School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela University Disclosure statement Stephen Cousins receives funding from the National Research Foundation and the Table Mountain Fund. Elzanne Singels receives funding from National Research Foundation and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust. Tineke Kraaij receives funding from Nelson Mandela University. Partners Nelson Mandela University provides support as an endorsing partner of The Conversation AFRICA. University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch Universityprovide funding as partners of The Conversation AFRICA. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. A massive wildfire on the Garden Route fuelled by invasive alien trees. Henry Cunningham There is a massive army marching across South Africa. It’s silent and looks harmless, but it’s growing by the day. It’s depleting the country’s water supply, intensifying wildfires, reducing agricultural productivity and threatening globally significant biodiversity. This is South Africa’s unwanted army of over 380 invasive alien plant species. Invasive alien species are a threat to human livelihoods and biodiversity globally. In South Africa, they cost the economy billions annually in lost productivity and funds spent on control programmes like Working for Water. Experts have advised that to get on top of the problem, intensified control efforts are needed. There is also a need to change existing programmes including increased funding, better prioritisation, more integrated control strategies and less bureaucratic interference. Studying the best ways of managing these species is also important for better control strategies. All land owners should be aware of any invasives on their properties. Control plans must be implemented, and easy-to-eradicate emerging invasions should be targeted. Taking action now means saving money and effort: the longer such invasions are left to establish themselves, the more difficult and expensive removal becomes. Green water guzzlers Invasives steadily diminish water resources, as they typically use significantly more waterthan native vegetation. Across the country, invasives reduce mean annual runoff by 1.4 billion m3 (3%) – the equivalent of 577 600 Olympic size swimming pools. An easy-to-eradicate emerging Eucalyptus invasion. Stephen Cousins The importance of alien clearing as part of good catchment management...

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SEMINAR TO PROBE FIRE QUESTIONS

Friday, 08 June 2018, 12:02 Just some of the aftermath of the June 2017 fires as caught from a helicopter by the SCFPA. KNYSNA: Remembering the 2017 fires – As Knysna continues its recovery from the fires that ravaged the town and surrounding areas a year ago, the inevitable questions are, “What have people learned from the worst wildfire in South African history?” and “Are they acting on the lessons?”. Fire-prevention agencies have for years been urging people who live close to forests and veld to protect their families, homes and communities by proactively removing fire hazards around their properties. Warnings have become more urgent in recent times as scientists studying climate change produce more evidence that we can expect hotter, drier weather and that wildfires are likely to become more frequent and intense. More questions If more people had heeded the pleadings of agencies such as the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA), would their actions have reduced the devastation last year? The inferno left several people burned to death, razed close to 1 200 homes and damaged 360, destroyed 7 500ha of plantations and burned down 17 800ha of fynbos and natural forests. Are more people now more aware that they can take measures that help to reduce the impact of wildfires? Taking stock, 1 year on Answers to questions such as these are likely to emerge when community leaders meet at Brenton-on-Sea on 6 and 7 June this year to take stock of the position in which Knysna and the Garden Route finds itself on the first anniversary of the inferno. Meanwhile, department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries fire advisor Paul Gerber believes people are more aware of the risks of wildfires but cautions that “memory is unfortunately short” and that “awareness-raising must take place throughout the year”. Buffer zones critical According to both Gerber and SCFPA area manager Dirk Smit, key lessons from the fire are that defensive spaces and buffer zones are of critical importance. More controlled burns have to be done along with any other fuel load reduction measures such as “chipping” and the removal of invasive plants. “Landowners clearing firebreaks around the towns would have decreased the risk and it’s clear that there must be proper management of the urban interface – the border where the fynbos meets the city – particularly with the control of invasive alien species,” says Smit. “Alien invasive plants such as Black Wattle, Hakea and invasive pine trees increase fire intensity and burn hotter encouraging the rapid spread of unwanted fire. ” added Smit. “The more invasive alien vegetation that we can clear and prevent from spreading the better our ‘protection’ against unwanted wildfire in the future.” ‘More...

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Plastic Hell, shocking images.

Plastic Hell, shocking images.

Today is World Environment Day.  See what humanity is doing to our environment: Published in DailyMail.Uk. Living in plastic hell: Indian town is completely swamped by a sea of garbage that gushes out of a drain into the shanty Plastic bottles, bags, food wrappers and other detritus have gushed out of a drain that ends in Taimur Nagar Sea of garbage sweeps through the slum in India’s capital New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities Pictures show stray dogs, goats and cows eating the plastic waste as toddlers run around in the squalor By AFP PUBLISHED: 04:37 BST, 4 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:13 BST, 5 June 2018 These images of squalor show a sea of plastic spreading through the New Delhi slum of Taimur Nagar – a symbol of the grime and waste that makes the Indian capital one of the world’s most polluted cities. The plastic bottles, bags, food wrappers and other detritus have gushed out of a drain that ends in the shanty, leaving stinking sewer water clogging the roads. Stray dogs, goats and cows munch the plastic waste as toddlers run around trying to retrieve footballs and water bottles. India is to be the focus of World Environment Day on Tuesday, but it is far from the minds of the long-suffering inhabitants of Taimur Nagar. It comes amid global efforts to reduce the reliance on single-use plastic. Earlier this year Theresa May vowed to eliminate Britain’s plastic waste by 2042. Squalor: A sea of plastic is seen spreading through the New Delhi slum of Taimur Nagar – a symbol of the grime and waste that makes the Indian capital one of the world’s most polluted cities Taimur Nagar (pictured) is one of many slums in Delhi and countless other Indian cities struggling to cope with waste The plastic bottles, bags, food wrappers and other detritus have gushed out of a drain that ends in the shanty, leaving stinking sewer water clogging the roads Stray dogs, goats and cows munch the plastic waste as toddlers run around trying to retrieve footballs and water bottles Taimur Nagar is one of many slums in Delhi and countless other Indian cities struggling to cope with waste, particularly the plastic pollution that is the main theme of World Environment Day In this image, a cow sits on the banks of a sewage drain in the slum ‘You can see how bad the conditions are here. It’s completely choked with plastic,’ said Bhola Ram, shaking his head. Taimur Nagar is one of many slums in Delhi and countless other Indian cities struggling to cope with waste, particularly the plastic pollution that is the main theme of World Environment Day. India is to organise beach cleanups, an...

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How invasive weeds can make wildfires hotter and more frequent

How invasive weeds can make wildfires hotter and more frequent

 Knysna residents have had  first hand experience of experience of fire last year on the 7th of June. December 20, 2017 9.05pm SAST Mixed grill: burning combinations of invasive and native plants helps us understand how invasive plants make fires hotter and more likely. Sarah Wyse, CC BY-ND Authors Tim Curran Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Lincoln University, New Zealand George Perry Professor, School of Environment, University of Auckland Sarah Wyse Early Career Research Fellow, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Research Fellow, School of Environment, University of Auckland Disclosure statement Tim Curran receives funding from the New Zealand National Rural Fire Authority and Lincoln University. George Perry receives funding from the NZ National Rural Fire Authority, the NSF and the University of Auckland. Sarah Wyse receives funding from the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust, the New Zealand National Rural Fire Authority, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and the University of Auckland. Partners Lincoln University, New Zealand provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and seven universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.   Over the past year the global media has been full of reports of catastrophic fires in California, the Mediterranean, Chile and elsewhere. One suggested reason for increases in catastrophic wildfires has been human-induced climate change. Higher temperatures, drier weather and windier conditions all increase the impact of fires. While climate change indeed raises the risk of wildfires, our research shows that another way humans can change patterns of fire activity is by introducing flammable plants to new environments. Plantations of highly flammable exotic species, such as pines and eucalypts, probably helped to fuel the recent catastrophic fires in Portugal and in Chile. In arid regions, such as parts of the US southwest, the introduction of exotic grasses has transformed shrublands, as fires increase in severity. Invasive plants and fire How do invasive plants change fire patterns? We burned species mixtures (aka “mixed grills”) on our plant barbecue to help find out. Invasive plants are responsible for changing the patterns of fire activity in many ecosystems around the world. In particular, invasive species can lead to hotter and more frequent fires. Invasive plants can also reduce fire frequency and fire intensity, but there are fewer examples of this occurring worldwide. One of the main ways flammable invasive plants can have long-lasting impacts on an ecosystem comes from positive fire-vegetation feedbacks. Such feedbacks can occur when a flammable weed...

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