A Landscape Ecological Approach to Address Scaling Problems in Conservation Management and Monitoring
Management of many African game reserves is today often still an art based on experience and intuition, rather than a science. Decision-making is based on an informal integration of accumulated individual knowledge and keen field observations. Data are generally poorly captured and curated. Until fairly recently, denominators of biological parameters (such as the unit of land or unit of plant production used as measurement) have generally been treated as being homogenous. The patchiness of landscapes and the issue of ecological scaling were ignored, often because of a lack of appropriate technical tools. The ecological data available on the 49,000-ha Songimvelo Game Reserve (SGR) result from a number of discrete survey and monitoring projects undertaken by different researchers, with different objectives, at different spatial and temporal scales. A landscape ecological approach towards research and monitoring is appropriate for an area of the size and diversity of the SGR. A combination of a database approach and spatial representation was used to consolidate and integrate data across temporal and spatial scales. Herbivore spatial and temporal distribution patterns were explored across three spatial scales. An understanding was achieved of the importance of landscape patchiness in controlling resource availability for herbivores. This insight is important in guiding management and monitoring of the SGR by placing perceived patch overutilization in its proper landscape context. The landscape ecological approach bridges the traditional scale-independent view to a more contemporary scale-related understanding of ecosystem diversity and functioning.
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