An assessment of the potential biodiversity impacts from biofuel production in South Africa

Blanchard, Ryan (2014-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Biofuels are being promoted as a global necessity to meet climate change targets through the replacement of fossil fuels. Many countries have identified biofuels as a potential mechanism to meet these challenges, with policy directives driving biofuel production. The South African government has proposed that biofuels form part of the country’s future renewable energy and has proposed a draft biofuel strategy. This study aims to investigate appropriate approaches to determine potential biodiversity impacts from biofuel production. Since biofuels are not currently grown to any large extent in South Africa, impact was modelled using future scenarios of converting available land within the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Suitable species were identified using the species distribution modelling programme MaxEnt. Some of the proposed biofuel crops were considered as invasive (i.e. they spread from sites where they are cultivated) or are very likely to be invasive in South Africa. This study also highlighted the considerable overlap between suitable growing areas and areas considered important for future biodiversity conservation. The biodiversity intactness index (BII), a broad based biodiversity indicator, was used to assess the biodiversity implications of transforming available land to biofuels. The BII indicates losses of biodiversity between 17.6% and 42.1% for the land use scenarios identified. An important finding was that excluding important biodiversity areas that occur outside of protected areas can reduce biodiversity losses by as much as 13% and maintain an overall intactness of ~70%. Currently the BII does not account for fragmentation or landscape configuration. This was addressed by developing a revised biodiversity intactness index (R-BII) which included the effect of patch-size and habitat fragmentation on biodiversity intactness. This study found that although the original BII reported on the biodiversity trends of large-scale shifts in land-use across multiple scales it could not detect changes in landscape configuration which was reflected by the R-BII. Land-use change can impact on ecosystem processes that underpin the provisioning of ecosystem services by changing the combinations of species and the plant functional traits within communities. The impacts of cultivating potential biofuel species (Acacia mearnsii, Sorghum halepense and Eucalyptus species) were investigated using a plant functional traits approach. These species were shown to affect the leaf nitrogen content, leaf phosphorous content and leaf dry matter content associated with important ecosystem functions within an ecosystem service hotspot in the Eastern Cape. A decline in functional diversity was reported for all transformed land-uses by as much as ~40%. These shifts may be used to identify potential changes to ecosystem services associated with natural vegetation. The methods used in this thesis highlight the overall relevance of this work and its importance to minimising biodiversity resulting from biofuel production. Some of the key findings address resolving spatial conflict, using biodiversity indicators, assessing impacts of potential invasive species and planning for ecosystem services. New drivers of change to land-use, such as biofuel production, are a major challenge to conservation biologists and planners and the insights derived in from this study can be successfully applied to guide biofuel production.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Biobrandstof word internasionaal beskou as 'n noodsaaklike komponent in die bereiking van klimaatsverandering doelwitte deur fossielbrandstowwe daarmee te vervang. Daarom word biobrandstof deur verskeie lande geïmplementeer as 'n potensiële meganisme om aan hierdie uitdaging te voldoen. Die Suid-Afrikaanse regering het voorgestel dat biobrandstof deel vorm van die land se hernubare energie toekoms en het daarom 'n konsep biobrandstofstrategie voorgestel. Die aanvaarding van so 'n strategie sal waarskynlik ‘n aantal verreikende gevolge inhou. Hierdie studie gebruik verskeie benaderings ten einde die impak van biobrandstof produksie op biodiversiteit te bepaal. Aangesien biobrandstof nie tans ‘n beduidende bydra maak tot tradisionele brandstofproduksie in Suid-Afrika nie, word die impak daarvan geskoei op die omskakeling van beskikbare grond. Die Oos-Kaap provinsie van Suid-Afrika speel a sleutelrol in hierdie opsig en vorm daarom die fokus van hierdie analise. Geskikte spesies is geïdentifiseer deur die sagtewareprogram, MaxEnt, waardeur spesiesverspreiding gemodelleer word. Hierdie studie beklemtoon die aansienlike oorvleueling wat daar bestaan tussen geskikte aanplantingsgebiede en belangrike biodiversiteitsareas wat nie tans formeel bewaar word nie. Sommige van die voorgestelde biobrandstofgewasse is tans indringers, of het die potensiaal om indringerplante te word en daarom is daar toenemende kommer oor die kweek van biobrandstof gewasse in Suid-Afrika. Die “Biodiversity Intactness Index” (BII), 'n algemene biodiversiteitsaanwyser, is gebruik om die implikasies van grondomskakeling na biobrandstof op biodiversiteit te evalueer. Die BII dui op verliese van tussen 17,6% en 42,1% vir die grondgebruikscenario's wat geïdentifiseer is. 'n Belangrike bevinding was dat die uitsluiting van belangrike biodiversiteitsareas buite beskermde gebiede die verlies van biodiversiteit met soveel as 13% kan verminder en biodiversiteit eenheid van ~ 70% kan behou. Die BII maak egter nie tans voorsiening vir landskap fragmentasie nie. ‘n “Revised-Biodiversity Intactness Index” (R-BII) is ontwikkel wat die effek van kol-grootte en habitat op biodiversiteit eenheid insluit. Hierdie studie het bevind dat alhoewel die oorspronklike BII grootskaalse verandering in die grondgebruik op verskeie skale aandui, dit egter nie verandering in landskapsamestelling kon opspoor soos die R-BII nie. Ten slotte, die impak van die aanplanting van potensiële biobrandstofspesies (Acacia mearnsii, Sorghum halepense en Eucalyptus spesies) op biodiversiteit is ondersoek deur ‘n plant funksionele eienskappe benadering te gebruik. Daar is bevind dat hierdie spesies die stikstof, fosfor en droë materiaal inhoud van blare verander wat geassosieer word met belangrike ekosisteem funksies binne 'n biodiversiteit brandpunt in die Oos- Kaap. ‘n Vermindering van funksionele diversiteit van soveel as ~ 40% is binne alle omgeskakelde grondgebruike gevind. Hierdie skuiwe kan gebruik word om potensiële veranderinge van ekosisteemdienste te identifiseer en benadruk ook die potensiële impak van uitheemse spesies. Die metodes wat gebruik word in hierdie studie beklemtoon die relevansie van die werk asook die belangrikheid daarvan om die nadelige uitwerking van biobrandstofproduksie op biodiversiteit te minimaliseer. Verskeie benaderings tot die oplossing van ruimtelike konflik, die gebruik van biodiversiteitaanwysers, die beoordeling van die impak van die potensiële indringerspesies en die beplanning vir ekosisteemdienste. Nuwe dryfvere van grondgebruikverandering soos biobrandstof is 'n groot uitdaging en die insigte wat uit hierdie studie verkry is dra by tot die vermindering van die potensiële impak van biobrandstofproduksie op biodiversiteit.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/95933
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