Anthropogenic impacts and biophysical interactions in Lake St Lucia.
Chrystal, Robynne Angela Lawrie.
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The St Lucia estuarine lake system in South Africa is part of a UN- ESCO World Heritage site and a Ramsar wetland of international importance. Like many estuarine systems worldwide St Lucia has experienced signi cant anthropogenic impacts over the past century including catchment land use changes, water diversions/abstractions and inlet manipulation. In addition, the system has recently su ered losses in species diversity and abundance following unprecedented hy- persaline conditions and desiccation. Questions regarding its sustain- ability have motivated a reevaluation of management decisions made in the past and of options for the future. To understand the func- tioning of the system, it is necessary to analyse it holistically in terms of the physical processes and their interaction with the biology. This study focusses on aspects of the biophysical interactions in the estu- arine complex, and aims to provide new knowledge to underpin the development of improved models for predicting the response of the system to anthropogenic interventions. A model for the water and salt budgets was used to investigate what if scenarios in terms of past anthropogenic interventions, in particular the e ects of diverting the Mfolozi River from St Lucia. Furthermore, the risks of hypersalinity and desiccation were assessed for each sce- nario. Integrating these modeled scenarios with observed biological responses to physicochemical changes suggested that large long-term changes in the ecological structure can be expected in the di erent management scenarios. To validate this, the ecosystem response to changing environmental responses was quantitatively assessed using ecological network analysis. Long-term simulations show that the separation of the Mfolozi and St Lucia mouths had a signi cant impact on the functioning of the St Lucia system. The Mfolozi plays a pivotal role in maintaining a more stable mouth state regime and provides a vital source of freshwater during dry conditions. The con guration of the Mfolozi/St Lucia inlet plays a key role in the physico-chemical environment of the system and in uences the system's susceptibility to desiccation and hypersaline conditions. Ecosystem indices revealed that the water level, salinity and mouth state have a signi cant impact on species abundance and diversity as well as the ecological structure and functioning of the system. In addition, ecosystem indices show that the system recovers rapidly during favourable conditions. The arti cial separation of the St Lucia and Mfolozi inlets underpins the most signi cant impacts on the water and salt budget of the lake and its reversal is key to the sustainability of the system.