Fynbos

Three major vegetation types are recognised in the Fynbos hotspot or Fynbos biome: Fynbos, Renosterveld and Strandveld. These major types can be subdivided into many smaller units that each have a distinctive structure and flora, with 195 Fynbos, Renosterveld and Strandveld vegetation units recognised in the biosphere reserve. Almost all of these smaller vegetation units are endemic to the biosphere reserve, but when viewed at a larger national scale, fewer of the Fynbos vegetation types present are endemic to the biosphere reserve.

Even when viewed at a coarse national scale the biosphere reserve plays an important role to conserve the biodiversity of the Fynbos biome as 22 of the 119 nationally recognised Fynbos vegetation units are endemic to the biosphere reserve. These units are: North Outeniqua Sandstone Fynbos, South Outeniqua Sandstone Fynbos, North Rooiberg Sandstone Fynbos, South Rooiberg Sandstone Fynbos, North Swartberg Sandstone Fynbos, South Swartberg Sandstone Fynbos, Swartberg Altimontane Sandstone Fynbos, North Kammanassie Sandstone Fynbos, South Kammanassie Sandstone Fynbos, Albertinia Sand Fynbos, Swartberg Shale Fynbos, Kango Conglomerate Fynbos, Canca Limestone Fynbos, Swellendam Silcrete Fynbos, Montagu Shale Renosterveld, Mossel Bay Shale Renosterveld, Uniondale Shale Renosterveld, Langkloof Shale Renosterveld, Kango Limestone Renosterveld, Blombos Strandveld and the Groot Brak Dune Strandveld.

Pristine Fynbos in the core upland part of the biosphere reserve. Most of these mountainous areas are well protected and soundly managed by a statutory body (CapeNature) (Photo: Jan Vlok).

Pristine Fynbos in the lowland of the biosphere reserve. It is one of the last extensive examples containing unique biodiversity and playing a valuable ecological ecosystem function, but the future of this private property is unsure. A major challenge to the biosphere reserve is to establish biological and financially sustainable land-use practices on such land (Photo: Jan Vlok).

 Characteristic species: 

 Remarkable is the presence of an endemic plant family, Geissolomataceae, with only one species known (Geissoloma marginata).

 No comprehensive checklist is available of the flora or fauna of the Fynbos of the biosphere reserve, but Mucina and Rutherford (2006) list some of the plant species that are endemic to the 22 vegetation units which in turn are endemic to the biosphere reserve. Their lists are not complete, but Goldblatt and Manning (2000) indicate that the level of endemism for the two phytogeographic centres present is 15.4% and 11.7%. A confirmation of the high degree of endemicity comes from one of the best-known families in the Fynbos, the Proteaceae. Twenty-four species of this family are endemic to the biosphere reserve. They are: Protea pruinosa, Protea aristata, Protea venusta, Protea montana, Paranomus centaureoides, Paranomus longicaulis, Paranomus spathulatus, Paranomus roodebergensis, Spatalla nubicola, Spatalla barbigera, Leucospermum pluridens, Leucospermum praecox, Leucospermum muirii, Leucospermum erubescens, Leucospermum hamatum, Leucospermum winteri, Leucospermum secundifolium, Leucospermum mundii, Leucospermum saxatile, Mimetes chrysanthus, Leucadendron olens, Leucadendron ericifolium, Leucadendron singulare and Leucadendron osbornei. Other plant families that have a high number of endemic species in the local Fynbos are the Asteraceae, Ericaceae, Fabaceae, Iridaceae and Rutaceae.

In terms of threatened larger mammals the biosphere plays an important role to conserve two unique genetic (and original) populations of Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and those of the Bontebok (Damaliscus pyrgargus pyrgargus). Original and natural populations of Leopard (Panthera pardus) are also still present in most of the mountainous areas.

Two of the threatened invertebrates that are endemic to the biosphere reserve, Aloeides trimeni southeyae and Colophon montisatris (Photos: Jan Vlok).

 Threatened invertebrates of the area include seven endemic species of the enigmatic beetle genus Colophon and 14 endemic butterfly species (Thestor swanepoeli, Thestor montanuspictus, Thestor tempe, Aloeides trimeni-southeyae, Poecilmitis swanepoeli, Poecilmitis hyperion, Poecilmitis henningi, Poecilmitis pyramus, Poecilmitis daphne, Poecilmitis ballii, Poecilmitis nigricans zwartbergae, Lepidochrysops ballii, Lepidochrysops littoralis and Lepidochrysops outeniqua).

Important natural processes:

Fire plays a vital role in maintaining the biodiversity of the Fynbos biome. The three aspects of fire regimes are particularly important: the frequency of fires, the season of fires and the intensity of fires. Ideally one should allow for a natural fire regime to continue. This is not possible in many of the inhabited buffer and transitional areas, but it is still used in extensive parts of the core area of the biosphere reserve. In those parts of the core conservation areas where natural fire regimes cannot be allowed due to the threat to adjacent areas, a block burning system is followed to imitate natural fire regimes regarding their frequency, season and intensity.

Water drainage patterns play a very important role in maintaining the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity of the region. In this respect the mountainous Fynbos areas play a very important role in supplying freshwater to the lowland and marine systems. Regarding the marine component of the biosphere reserve the only known vital ecological process is the importance of deliverance of freshwater to the estuaries. The most important hydrological aspects in the region were carefully incorporated (through a specialist workshop) in the design of the biosphere reserve.

Annual and seasonal migration routes of the fauna of the Fynbos, ranging from top predators such as Leopard to nectarivore birds that provide an important pollination function, were also carefully considered in the design of the biosphere reserve. These various natural processes are displayed in the map below.

Annual and seasonal migration routes of the fauna of the Fynbos, ranging from top predators such as Leopard to nectarivore birds that provide an important pollination function, were also carefully considered in the design of the biosphere reserve. These various natural processes are displayed in the map below.

Occurrence and spatial extent of important ecological processes considered in the design of the biosphere reserve (source: Lombard et al. 2004). 

Main human impacts:

Humans have lived in the region for many thousands of years as the biosphere reserve is currently thought to be the origin of modern man. It is impossible to indicate what the impact of the original humans was on the environment. Here, comment is made only on recent (300 year) impacts.

The Renosterveld component is the most transformed part of this biome as most of these vegetation types were converted to agricultural lands. The Fynbos component is mostly affected by the introduction of alien weeds, but also in a few areas by altered fire-regimes to provide grazing to domestic stock and to establish commercial fynbos products such as Honeybush-tea. The Strandveld component has been severely transformed through coastal housing development as the coastal portion of the biosphere reserve enjoys a very pleasant climate.

Relevant management practices:

  • Convince private landowners who own properties with important biodiversity pattern and ecological processes to convert their land-use practices and become part of the core conservation area through the stewardship programme of CapeNature.
  • Remove alien plant infestations in all the important corridor areas.
  • Maintain fire regimes as close as possible to natural regimes on remnant patches of vegetation, even on small remnant Renosterveld patches.
  • Continually inform landowners and managers about the importance of their land towards the goal of conserving the biodiversity and ecological functioning of the region. Also provide useful management recommendations to ensure that they achieve their personal goal in a way that adds to the larger conservation goal.
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