(The booklet “Birds and Environmental Change: building an early warning system in South Africa” is the product of collaboration between the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) of the University of Cape Town, with the kind support of the Royal Danish Embassy, Pretoria. This support enabled the fast-tracking of data analysis in time for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2009, in order to demonstrate how South Africa is using long-term bird monitoring and research to build an early warning system for climate change impact on its biodiversity. We post several excerpts from this publication and express our appreciation to SANBI for allowing this.
Full title: de Villiers, M.S. (ed.). 2009. Birds and Environmental Change: building an early warning system in South Africa. SANBI, Pretoria.
Nowhere to go: Southern Black Korhaans
Southern black korhaans Afrotis afra are small bustards that occur only in southern and western South Africa, where they are largely restricted to specialised fynbos and karoo habitats. The birds rely on natural vegetation for protection, and avoid cultivated areas unless there is cover nearby.
Data from the first and second bird atlas projects (SABAP1 and 2) indicates that the distribution of these birds has shrunk by about 20% in the last 20 years. Although korhaans still occur in parts of the karoo and fynbos biomes, they are now harder to find there than in previous years. In some areas, they have disappeared altogether. The southern part of the southern black korhaan’s range has been especially heavily altered by agriculture. In the wheat-producing Overberg region, for example, there appears to have been a dramatic decline in the korhaan population over the last decade. Species of plants and animals confined to the south and west of South Africa are most likely to be affected by climate change. This is because the habitats to which they are best adapted are likely to shift even farther south and west, contracting as they come up against the coast and eventually disappearing. Birds that are relatively widespread and numerous may be able to weather threats that are causing their ranges to shrink. But southern black korhaans, with their relatively low numbers and reliance on restricted habitats, may have difficulty coping with such changes.