A flooded river crossing in the Kruger National Park. Picture: SUPPLIED
A flooded river crossing in the Kruger National Park. Picture: SUPPLIED

Climate change could cause a catastrophic loss of species in the Kruger National Park, scientists working in the park said.

Airborne laser surveys that measured the damage to rivers from extreme floods in 2000 and 2012 found they needed more than a decade to recover.

David Milan‚ from the University of Hull in the UK‚ said the 2012 flood removed almost 1.25-million tonnes of sediment from the bed of the Sabie River.

"We also found that patches of mature riparian forest that survived larger floods in 2000 were removed by the 2012 floods‚" he said. "There is a suggestion that the frequency of large flood events is increasing due to climate change‚ and our analysis of river channel morphology for a 50km length of the Sabie River shows us that these rivers need time-spans longer than a decade to recover."

High-resolution data from the laser surveys was used to create accurate digital models of river beds after the 2012 flood‚ enabling scientists funded by the UK’s Natural Environmental Research Council to map detailed patterns of erosion.

Writing in the Geological Society of America Bulletin‚ Milan said Kruger has global significance. Like two-thirds of Africa‚ Kruger is a dryland area‚ making it particularly vulnerable to climate change.

"More frequent floods will continue to strip out sediment and vegetation from the river channel‚ leaving a more barren environment with less habitat value‚" said Milan.

If the trend continues, he predicted "a catastrophic loss of species unable to adapt to the new environments", and called for conservationists "to look at ways in which dryland river habitats can be best managed".