Abstract for: Using palaeoecology and system dynamics to inform conservation of a biodiversity-rich, but endangered, ecosystem

Conservation landscapes provide Ecosystem Services (ES) that vary over time in response to social and environmental drivers of change. Management often fails to consider this variability, with consequences for social-ecological systems sustainability. This paper investigates plant biodiversity variability and how to ameliorate negative impacts of climate change and land-use disturbance at Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve,, Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. This transdisciplinary approach (palaeoecology and participatory system dynamics) follows a past-present-future lens, to inform appropriate land-use governance. Changes in palaeo-proxies for vegetation, herbivory and fire (fossil pollen, spores and charcoal) from a 1300-year-old sediment core were analysed. Palaeoecology defined the historical range of variability and identified appropriate management baselines. Participatory system dynamics included model building and future scenarios planning techniques. Simulation results show that as grazing increased, plant biodiversity decreased and fire increased. It may be difficult to restore the system to its pre-1950s historical range of variability even if grazing and fire are reduced but adaptive grazing-fire management is recommended to sustain current plant biodiversity in a new regime/alternative stable state. Understanding the temporal variability and dynamic feedbacks between ES and drivers is essential for identifying safe operating parameters and management targets that enhance social-ecological resilience and sustainability during the Anthropocene.