Dragonfly assemblage dynamics and conservation at small reservoirs in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
A study of the odonate fauna was carried out at the edge of a major escarpment, in eastern South Africa, using the same methodology as has been used in the temperate regions to obtain a sub-tropical perspective. The study used the macroecology approach to compare patterns and responses of these animals (at the developmental stages of larva, tenerals and adults) to seasonal, topographical and anthropogenic disturbances. The habitats used were small, but well-established reservoirs located at five elevational gradients: Stainbank Nature Reserve (100 m), Krantzkloof Nature Reserve (450 m), National Botanical Gardens Pietermaritzburg (790 m) Cedara (1050 m) and Mondi Goodhope Estate (1350 m). Although this is essentially a local component of a larger macroecological study, it is shown that even though species and identities differ between temperate, tropical and sub-tropical ecoregions, the general pattern of community response to these variables is similar. Odonate species phenologies in this sub-tropical study showed great similarity to their tropical counterparts by reason of their adults being highly elevation-tolerant, with long flight periods and over-lapping generations. Yet they also show temperate characteristics by over-wintering principally as larvae and eggs. The Libellulidae, followed by the Coenagrionidae were the most abundant, elevationtolerant families, with national endernics constituting only 6.5% of the total species sampled. Classification and ordination methods identified and characterised sub-sites to ecologically meaningful biotopes for odonates . This also allowed inferences as to how the various landscape disturbances at the five elevations affect species richness and abundance. Species that responded to these impacts were potential indicator groups that can assist in the planning and management of the landscape for conservation of biodiversity. Some management recommendations for these landscapes are given. Individual odonate species developmental stages and their environmental relations were investigated using both univariate and multivariate analyses. The solutions to these analyses were then used to describe how odonate species are distributed along major environmental gradients. It was shown that regional processes e.g. elevation and insolation alongside local variables e.g. pH, marginal grasses, percentage shade, exposed rock, marginal forest, marsh and flow greatly accounted for adult (aerial stage) assemblage variation and distribution. Turbidity, floating/submerged vegetation and water depth (also influenced by regional factors), highly explained larval (aquatic stage) variation. Elevation has therefore, an indirect effect in that it determines climate, which in turn, determines soil and vegetation types which then determine species presence and absence. Also, although these artificial water bodies do not increase the 'extent of species occurrence', they are important in increasing their 'area of occupancy'. Dragonflies play a major role in conservation. The Japanese culture has strongly illustrated how dragonflies feature in everyday life more than any other country in the world. While many parks and Botanical Gardens feature dragonfly trails in their nature trails in Britain, this does not necessarily cater for threatened species . Conservation of invertebrates in urban environments in South Africa for example by ecological landscaping designed to encourage dragonflies has been particularly rewarding. A core of regularly occurring odonate species occupied the dragonfly trail at the National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg, while other species visited the study site at irregular periods . This is likely to be the case for a longer term, say ten years or more. Also, the trail, with updated information on species phenologies, variability and habitat preferences continues to play a valuable role in sensitising an increasingly urbanised population to biodiversity and conservation issues. Odonates remain a major component when assessing ecological components of aquatic biotopes, with the assemblage composition at anyone locality capable of changing over time. This has been extensively illustrated in the northern hemisphere. Medium to longer term changes in odonate population at established reservoirs as demonstrated in this study at the National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, makes it possible to determine whe[t]her a species in a conservation area is being given enough protection from local anthropogenic impacts and effects of unpredictable weather conditions. This in turn enables one to understand how concepts of residency and succession underpin conservation management decisions. In conclusion, this study has addressed some salient aspects of species inventory, monitoring and conservation practice at a local scale that also play a central role in conventional biodiversity conservation practice of a global nature. Information on species phenologies enhances their awareness-raising in addition to providing valuable insights into their population dynamics and conservation, especially for those under threat. In addition, baseline data from this study and similar ones is useful in conserving biodiversity (as subjects) or in multi-taxa studies (as tools) in conserving ecosystems and/or landscapes. Finally, the macroecological approach employed in this study has great potential for teasing apart local effects from regional and/or global ones, and can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity at both small and large scales.