The Fynbos Biome

The Fynbos Biome extends across the southern corner of South Africa in a 100-200km wide coastal belt in the Western Cape Province. Fynbos is characterised as schlerophyllous shrub-land and this biome is comprised of two major vegetation types, the Fynbos and the Renosterveld. The Fynbos Biome forms the main part of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), which is recognised globally as a biodiversity hotspot, due to the high numbers of endemic plant and invertebrate taxa.

The CFR covers approximately 87 892 km2 within the Western Cape Province and slightly into the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. There are six major plant kingdoms recognised internationally, and the CFR is the smallest geographically, but the richest in terms of diversity, whilst being the only plant kingdom contained within the boundaries of a single country. This places the onus of conserving this amazing diversity solely on South Africa. The CFR is extremely rich in plant species, with approximately 9 600 different species of plants having been documented with at least 70% of these endemic to this region. The diversity of plant taxa arises from the diversity of soil types, topography and climatic conditions across the region. In turn the diversity of plant species gives rise to a high diversity of invertebrate species, some of which may depend on only a single plant species for their survival. Similar ecological relationships have also emerged between the bird species endemic to this Biome and certain of the plant species.

Value of the Fynbos Biome

The intrinsic value of conserving this unique Biome is undoubtedly its high levels of biodiversity and endemism. However, the Biome is also an important agricultural hub for the nation, sustaining wheat, fruit and thriving wine industries, which are possible through the soil and climatic conditions which exist. The mountains of the Biome provide an essential water catchment area for the City of Cape Town, sustaining the ever growing population. Other ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water filtration and buffering against floods also exist. The total value of the Fynbos Biome's and associated marine environment's ecosystem services has been estimated at R9.6 billion annually!

Major Fynbos Threats

The chain of large mountain ranges which comprise the CFR are viewed as essential water catchment areas, and as such have historically received the focus of conservation action in the region. This has unfortunately neglected the low lying Fynbos areas which hold high levels of biodiversity. Much of the vegetation types of the lowlands have been converted into agricultural fields or rangelands, or succumbed to the expansion of infrastructure development. The disruption of the natural fire regimes has impacted negatively on many of the Fynbos plant species as these species utilise specific fire frequencies to set seed and germinate. Infestation by alien invasive plant species, such as certain Australian Acacia and Eucalyptus species, has also converted much of the natural habitat areas into alien "forests", devoid of the natural biodiversity of the region. The Fynbos Biome is predicted to be severely impacted upon by climate change, with estimates of as high as a 50% loss of the Fynbos Biome. The drastic climatic changes predicted could alter the conditions required for the persistence of the biome, such as changes in rainfall patterns and temperature, which in turn lead to changes in the plant communities which are able to persist in the area. Ultimately replacing the Fynbos with a different suite of species and thereby reducing the extent of the Biome.

Current Conservation Initiatives

Due to the high levels of diversity and the threats affecting this region, some authors have termed this the "hottest of Hotspots"! This Biome has therefore received much attention through both conservation planning and action. In particular the Cape Action Plan for People and the Environment (CAPE), driven by the South African Biodiversity Institute, has mobilised much conservation action across the region. Conservation successes have been achieved by the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme in the Province, which engages and involves local landowners in the conservation of their properties through various incentives and improved land management. This region has also seen the work of the Business and Biodiversity Initiatives which aim to entrench sustainable farming practices in a variety of agricultural production, whilst also conserving critical vegetation types. The high level of collaboration between different conservation agencies including public, private and governmental institutions is well regarded, and widely acknowledged as one of the keys to the conservation success in this Biome. BirdLife South Africa will hope to add to the diversity of existing collaborations and use this approach to assist in conserving the diversity of birds and the Important Birds Areas present in this Biome.