The conservation of biotic diversity is a growing challenge within southern Africa at the beginning of the 21st century. Growing populations and trends toward a questionable Western development model place demands on the use of land for food, fiber, and fuel production. The traditional establishment and use of formal conservation areas is being challenged against the needs of humans and the past unbalances created by colonial rule. Conservation areas, as isolated islands in a sea of change driven by interconnected economic and social systems, may not be a basis for sustainable biodiversity conservation. This thesis examines characteristics of avian species diversity response to abiotic environmental variables and land transformation. Environmental and land-use correlates of species gradients, species diversity patterns, and the spatial patterning of bird assemblages varied with location. The findings supported a conceptual model of multi-scaled controls on bird distribution, and the related notion that local community structure is the result of both regional environmental and local-scale landscape pattern that must be taken in to account in regional conservation planning assessments. An analytical framework including an landscape model, use of complementary-based reserve selection procedures, gradient analysis, and inclusion of the total spatial economy and development needs of the KwaZulu-Natal Province proved to be important for developing an integrated conservation plan for sustainable avian conservation. Pattern recognition results of the spatial economy and landscape pattern revealed the strong dichotomy in Western economic versus rural African landscapes, which have lead to strong differences in avian assemblage patterns. The research described in this thesis targets specific objectives of the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative by addressing requirements for landscape level analysis of humans and ecosystems in an integrated analytical framework. The development of a co-evolutionary landscape ecology framework for examining human-ecosystem interaction provides a strong basis for supporting targeted conservation planning within regions rather than supporting a generic conservation planning framework.
Thesis (DPhil (Sustainable Ecological Management))--University of Pretoria, 2007.