Some 50 volunteers walked 400 kilometres of mopane veld in six weeks – all for the benefit of science. Yet there was some compensation as it all happened in the Kruger National Park (KNP). "The aim," says Nikki Stevens of the South African Environmental Observation Network (Saeon), "is to set a baseline for future changes in mopane distribution in South Africa's savanna biome."
From May 14 to June 21, the volunteers surveyed the mopane distribution on both the basalt and granite soil types – covering three by 50 kilometre blocks in the Houtboschrand and about 10 kilometres north of Orpen Gate in the Kingfisherspruit section, respectively. At the same time, the Bateleurs, an organisation comprising volunteer pilots, surveyed the borders of the park and adjacent Umbabat Private Nature Reserve.
"In the end we would like to map the mopane veld on two scales – a larger and intermediate scale with a 50 metre accuracy." Nikki says the study will enable Saeon to detect changes in the mopane veld within 500 metres. The project is part of Saeon's monitoring function. A 1999 climate change study relating to plant biodiversity, vulnerability and adaptation predicted that mopane distribution could expand to the southern parts of Kruger within the next 50 years.