Department of Biodiversity & Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape
Despite continued calls to the contrary, the City of Cape Town continues to show little regard for biodiversity conservation! Most forget that biological diversity is NOT just about numbers of different species, it also makes reference to the relative contribution by each individual species. Species abundance is an important component of biodiversity that is often overlooked and here the City seems incapable of understanding just how important it is to conserve as many biodiversity-rich road verges and public open spaces as possible.
It is common knowledge that after Indonesia and Brazil, South Africa is the third-most biologically diverse country in the world. Occupying less than 1% of the world’s land area, we are home to an astonishing array of organisms including some 10% of the world’s plants. We are the only country in the world that encompasses three biodiversity hotspots, one (the Cape Floristic Region) of which falls entirely within our political borders that also happens to contain the smallest of all plant biomes namely the Fynbos biome. Within the greater Western Cape, there exists the highest concentration of plant species in the world.
Despite our unique biodiversity status, we are losing species at an unprecedented rate. Habitat loss and fragmentation is our greatest concern. Some 40% of the original fynbos has been destroyed by agriculture and the spread of the city, and as a consequence we have the 2nd highest number of plant extinctions in the world. What makes matters worst is that about 80% of the country’s scarce and threatened habitats are located on road verges and public open spaces, and in private ownership. We simply have to consider conservation efforts beyond formerly protected reserves and parks!
A large proportion of spring wildflowers on road verges and public open spaces are annuals. This means that they need to set seed in order to re-appear the following year. If the City continues (by badly planned maintenance practices) to prevent such events from unfolding, we continue to reduce the already dwindling numbers of individuals (and species), even if these species are currently abundant. As a point in case, three of the last four known wild plants of the Kraaifontein spiderhead protea (Serruria furcellata) were destroyed by mowing. Similarly, species of Giessorhiza (wine cups) are also endangered with extinction notably because of habitat destruction and transformation. Many other such examples exist.
In conclusion, if we accept that biodiversity conservation is critical for ethical and spiritual existence, we then have to realise that we simply cannot continue with such indiscriminate practices. The priority for the City of Cape Town should be natural areas abounding with rich floral diversity and NOT “tidy”, neat, manicured green landscapes of sterility.
Article posted by: (5 September 2011)