Importance of Natural Resources

Ecosystems and drought

[Background Music]
– A dire warning on climate change. – You’re battling mother nature,
you’re likely to lose. – The damage is particularly
devastating for farmers. – Irreversible damage by the
worst flooding in a lifetime. – Nearly a million species
are at risk of extinction. ROBERT PRINGLE: Our research is about
trying to understand how nature works. What are the rules that govern
how ecosystems organize? CORINA TARNITA: How small-scale interactions
between plants and animals lead to large-scale regular patterns
and how we might be able to use those patterns to infer
the health of ecosystems. PRINGLE: If you start out
with a healthy ecosystem, with very continuous vegetation cover, and you start decreasing the rainfall,
the system will go through a series of patterns. First the gaps will
form in the vegetation. Then a labyrinth pattern
of vegetation will occur. Then you’ll just have a
few spots of vegetation. And the next step is desert. TARNITA: Drylands and savannas
support a very large percent of the population and they’re extremely sensitive to climatic change. So trying to understand
whether we can indeed come up with some early
warning indicators for these regions is extremely
important for roughly 40% of the population of the globe. PRINGLE: One of the surprising
things that this work has led us to discover is the critically
important role of termites in African savanna ecosystems. And that termite activity
in the soil actually helps to buffer ecosystems against
the effects of climate change. TARNITA: Termite mounds are
very rich in nutrients. They create these little survival islands. So basically when the rest
of the system is in danger of collapse because the
precipitation has decreased, some plants can still
survive on the termite mounds. If the precipitation comes back, then these survival islands can
reseed the rest of the ecosystem and the plants can flourish again. We are experimenting at Mpala Research Centre with building spatial
patterns by adding nutrients in the very regular spatial patterns that are associated with termite mounds. We want to see whether this kind of man-made spacial pattern can
actually boost the productivity of the system and allow
for these survival islands to establish themselves.

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