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Monitoring Programme

Proposed revised biophysical monitoring programme for the KNP

In line with the revision of the management plan for Kruger and the associated 5-yearly revision of the objectives hierarchy, the monitoring programme for Kruger has also naturally come under re-examination and review.

This has not yet been completed due to a number of reasons, but a series of internal meetings resulted in the following initial proposals for a backbone structure for the revised program. Much emphasis was laid on time constraints with alternatives such as scaling down, greater use of technicians and outsourcing, being touted.

At the meeting of 26-27 January 2004, three sub-groups ran parallel sessions (with active interlinks between them):

  1. so-called strategic issue and background information group,
  2. biodiversity group,
  3. tactical group.

Interlinks between these groups soon showed that there existed many grey areas, and that some themes could be viewed as belonging to multiple categories. However the following diagram (constructed with hindsight after the meeting) has some value in placing themes in a meaningful context.

While monitoring for tactical reasons (e.g. to provide the grass information needed to set a fire) is only necessary for certain short-term themes, whenever such tactically-orientated monitoring is done, it should feed sensibly into the strategic and ultimately the biodiversity goals of the Park. An example of this is that fires are put in according to monthly and seasonal targets which in turn help meet strategic fire TPCs (van Wilgen at al, 1998) whose ultimate aim is biodiversity maintenance. Put another way, biodiversity is the ultimate aim. All strategic aims (meaning monitoring of the aims of longer term interventions or non-interventions) should be nested in biodiversity aims, and any tactical themes nested inside strategic ones.

It is particularly the “background” data (data needed to interpret the other forms of monitoring, e.g. weather data) which often turned out to have unclear links to the other monitoring themes and hence also to objectives. Future exercises should strive to reduce background monitoring as far as possible, and when carried out, its role should be clear. The ultimate general purpose background categories are the recognizably important factors characterized by unpredictable surprises, namely climate/weather and hydrology, and perhaps these should be allowed greater tolerance in justification. Some monitoring targeted largely or entirely at servicing research is included in this program (because of the strong research emphasis in the KNP objectives) at least as far as these were thought of and deemed feasible.

As already mentioned, distinctions between the subgroups (tactical, strategic, biodiversity, background) are often transitional i.e. one group grades into another, and that exactly the same monitoring theme can land up in a different (or multiple) groups, especially depending on how the data is viewed. For instance if species counts are viewed basically as responding negatively to a poaching threat, they may be tactical; if they are analysed and viewed as contributing towards, say, a metapopulation plan in the subcontinent, they are strategic; if they are viewed in aggregate (via Shannon or complementarity indices) they are targeting biodiversity aims. It is this latter group that will probably require the greatest development in the future, though it should be clear that measuring these biodiversity endpoints on their own, will not suffice. There will always be key indicators in the other categories – it is linking our understanding of which of these to ultimately use that will eventually be the breakthrough.

One really helpful concept that has emerged in monitoring theory recently, is the idea that we as humans like measuring so-called “fast” variables which can be seen as changing quickly and which appear to be easily interpreted physically. People are particularly poor at interpreting the “slow variables” (even when these are measured) which turn out to be the real and easily overlooked killers. What this theory says is that we should look for fast “practical” variables which faithfully represent important slow processes. A really good example is the Breonadia TPC which changes fairly quickly, is easily measured and quickly understood. However, it turns out (with a few interpretation problems after floods etc, the topic of a current research project) that changes in Breonadia actually faithfully represent sedimentation, the big slow threat in which we are really interested. Although this is just a much better way of saying that Breonadia is “a good indicator”, the fact is that such scientifically proven success stories are extremely rare, and that people are not clear on the link between the fast and slow variable, or on the actual slow variable.

The way forward to finalise the monitoring programme for Kruger is as follows:

  • The proposed ideas will be evaluated in parallel with the finalisation of the objectives and compliance with objectives will be checked (to ensure we do not just continue monitoring for its own sake), so there will be some back-and-forth between these processes.
  • In the compliance-with-objectives checking step, we will also try to generate TPCs directly from objectives and then only link the actual monitoring themes.
  • Inputs and requirements from the conservation managers will also be articulated and this will feed into the finalisation step below.
  • After the outputs of these steps are merged, the framework of guidance will then be given back to the monitoring champions to flesh out the TPCs and monitoring detail.
Mainly Background Summary Crosslinks / comments
Climate Rainfall, temp, radiation etc; also needed for fire setting and management. One automatic station plus 2 planned. Consider reducing 3 rd order stations. Fire weather brought across from tactical
Large animals EAS – controversial – needs choice between alternative suggestions; rare game still a confounding issue

Immediate changes to buffalo.

Hippo – still included but controversial
Elephant counts (this level of accuracy perhaps not required, though) feed into strategic monitoring as well, even if not made explicit in bigger document. Better justification for hippo/croc/ large waterbird counts may be a river health emphasis rather than per se.
Soil erosion Part of full VCA; any possible change to Tongway method seen as only in research phase Part copied from biodiversity (functional); see also ‘bare ground’ RS
Landscape Water Cybertracker; & investigate RS (Landsat TM). Classification, database incl. gravel pits, and TPCs all under development. Part copied from biodiversity (patchiness)
Mainly Tactical Summary Crosslinks / comments
Water Quality Collections for DWAF; some realtime probes; See also SASS and FCII: biodiversity
Water Quantity River Flow See boreholes: biodiversity
Development impacts Concessions, roads, picnic sites etc See also Woody & Herbaceous
Mainly Strategic Summary Crosslinks / comments
Terrestrialisation/Sedimentation Demographics of Breonadia; river geomorphology and terrestrialisation indices Rest of hydrology covered under tactical
Rare Species Selected spp: wild dog; black rhino; 3 spp. rare antelope*; possibly some plant spp now identified by NBI (since Jan meeting?) Efforts: cybertracker; ad hoc observations by staff; development of photofiles for rare plants; specific research projects (Juliana’s golden mole; four-toed ele shrew; yellow golden mole; saddlebill stork; sable; corncrake; certain fish & reptiles?; few plant spp (pending new red list).

Ranger components were also discussed under tactical

*if not covered in total counts under EAS as requested (controversial)
Fire Patterns Ranger fire reporting, gradually enhanced and eventually partly/largely replaced by RS See also VCA
Advances of alien organisms Program needs full development as described. Emphasis on riparian, roadsides, developed areas eg concessions, Opuntia, waterweeds, biocontrol; alien animals (incl. varroa mite and host honeybees); birds, diseases, inverts. Again many inputs from ‘tactical’ division of rangers
Mainly Biodiversity Summary Crosslinks / comments
Riverine SASS; riparian/river birds; Fish assemblage and habitat integrity (all done by S/S technicians) See also terrestrialisation / sedimentation; riparian vegetation index
Non-riverine aquatic TPC & monitoring to be developed, possibly based on pH of pans as measured by rangers  
Borehole water levels To be developed as ongoing by rangers 2x per year  
Structure & Composition of Woody Vegetation Fixed point photos (riparian more frequent); complemented by aerial & satellite RS; Riparian vegetation indices; woody VCA; large tree TPC to develop. See Breonadia & river terrestrial-isation under strategic. Incl concessions.

Note: Exclosures & enclosures require monitoring; seen as separate from main program
Structure & Composition: Herbaceous Vegetation Abbreviated VCA annually *; to be supplemented with RS and appropriate interpolation methods; Woody VCA every 3yrs. Must still decide on full VCA by rangers or smaller sample by S/S. * now include grass composition
Invertebrates At this stage Ants only; but developing wider techniques, Most recently has a habitat-surrogacy survey which can link with those below.  
Small Vertebrates Reptile; frog; snake surveys. Research project on wider usage of fuller biodiversity (‘Margules’) framework, with possibility of expansion of elements to this physical survey, over time, if deemed appropriate. See fish and riverine birds under riverine.