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Water flow, ecological dynamics, and management in the lower Limpopo Valley: a long‐term view

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In this contribution, we review long‐term (millennial–decadal scale) river‐flow changes, climate interactions, and interlinkage with vegetation dynamics, as well as society and policy, focusing on the lower Limpopo Valley (from the South African border through Mozambique). Drawing on paleoecological data, we address the valley's potential for defining critical ecological thresholds and managing an adaptive ecological landscape, by focusing on the dynamic relationship between different drivers (fire, hydrology, and grass/tree relationships). We briefly review the long‐term interactions between water flow, climate variability, and society using archeological records and written sources. Lastly, we analyze the social and political context of water management, focusing on the last 100 years and transboundary water management. We also discuss planning and mitigation in relation to climate change and rainfall extremes that are projected to increase. It is stressed that forward‐thinking policies must heed long‐term climate variability, hydrology and biological and social impact and to plan and mitigate for environmental events. The discussion also brings to the fore the importance of an adaptable and equitable strategy in cross‐border water sharing. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1228. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1228

The Limpopo River basin, main towns, and sample localities discussed in the text.
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Floods in Chokwe 2000 (Photo by Mercy Air Switzerland).
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Explanation of water, fire, and vegetation dynamics based on long‐term data. Low intensity fire acts as a driver (Fire ON) and a positive feedback in grasslands unconstrained by water availability, i.e., in facilitating tree recruitment and potentially driving the system into a savanna phase. In the savanna phase, higher fire intensity acts as a negative feedback when woody cover is below ca 20–45% and constrains woody recruitment. In other phases, fire is constrained by other variables (Fire OFF), such as where biomass is too low for fire, and/or where water availability, farming activities and other factors that have not been considered here constrain fuel and or ignitions.
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Summary pollen diagrams of Lake Mapimbi and Chiluetse and Radio Pan discussed in the text.
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Summary of climate proxies discussed in the text (compiled by Hannaford et al. and condensed here).
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Engineering Water > Planning Water
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems

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