Project Title: Scaling from plant hydraulics to water management in diverse plant communities
Host Organisation: South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), South Africa
Sub-Saharahan Africa is one of the regions most vulnerable to drought and incremental warming. Climate change threatens water availability and important sectors that rely on natural ecosystems, such as forestry and tourism. This project aims to reduce uncertainty surrounding the capacity of natural ecosystems to withstand climate change by developing new fundamental insights in the biological sciences, thereby improving predictions of the ecological impacts of drought. One important expected outcome is a quantitative assessment to show how drought-induced changes to plant functionality in canopies affect long-term plant performance and viability – reducing uncertainty over the capacity of natural ecosystems to cope with water stress, and enabling more accurate and reliable predictions of plant health and productivity. The potential scientific, economic, and ecological benefits for South African communities are considerable. The development of innovative technologies to monitor plant health – including miniature external sapflow gauges – may well lead to new commercial products. This project is perfectly aligned with South Africa's research priorities in areas of long-term environmental change, for enduring scientific and societal benefit.