Muddy memories : environmental change at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa - evidence from diatoms

Bachelor Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Diatoms are microscopic algae found in almost all aquatic environments. They are habitat specific and have silica frustules which preserve well in sediments. They have been used extensively to provide a multitude of palaeoecological data relating to pH, nutrient loads and water levels. Here, the diatoms in a lake sediment core from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa, are analysed to show fluctuations in littoral to benthic taxa, and brackish to freshwater taxa as indicators of lake level changes over time. Changes in lake level act as a proxy for warm/dry or cold/wet periods over time. During the last 240 years lake levels have remained consistently low but nevertheless indicate four alternating periods of cold/wet and warm/dry climate. From c. A.D. 1770 (the last few decades of the Little Ice Age) to the c. A.D. 1840 the climate was cool and wet, but nonetheless gradually warmed up and became drier. From c. A.D. 1840 through to c. A.D. 1920 a there was a gradual increase in temperature and corresponding decrease in rainfall. Then, from c. A.D. 1920 till c. A.D. 1980 there was another colder, wetter period. Finally, very recently, from around c. A.D. 1980 till the present day, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi has experienced warmer, drier conditions once. Pollution-tolerant diatoms increase during the last 100 years and indicate eutrophication of the lake, a consequence of anthropogenic activity in the region. The diatom sequence from Phindiswene provides a high resolution climatic proxy for the critical period covering the latter stages of the Little Ice Age (LIA), post LIA warming, and recent increasing anthropogenic impacts.