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Cape Floral Region Protected Areas

Date of Submission: 08/07/2009
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Western Cape Nature Conservation Board
Ref.: 5454
Word File

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The features that make the Cape Floral Region unique in the world are the exceptionally high plant species richness and endemism with almost 70% of the 9 500 plant species endemic to the region. This diversity is supported by a range of ecological processes operating within a landscape of highly variable geology, topography, climate and habitats. The eight protected areas, which currently make up the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site, are supported by a much wider network of adjacent or surrounding conserved areas ranging from national and provincial protected areas to conservancies and declared Mountain Catchment Areas. It is from this network of supporting protected areas that a selection is being made for the extension nomination.

Land ownership: The Protected Areas that will be evaluated for inclusion in the proposed extension are all formally protected. They are under the management of either SANParks, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board or the Eastern Cape Parks Board, which now form a Joint Management Committee with DEAT for the existing 8 protected areas making up the current CFRPA WHS.

Management structure: The selected areas to be added will all form part of the responsibilities of the three organisations making up the Joint Management Committee.          

Budgetary matters: The potential protected areas that will form the extension are all fully funded by the three authorities mentioned in 1 above.

Site readiness: All potential sites either have up to date management plans or are in the process of updating them. Management structures are all in place. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Cape Floral Region (CFR) is a highly distinctive phytogeographic unit which is regarded as one of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world and is by far the smallest and relatively the most diverse. It is also recognised as the worlds "hottest hotspot" for its diversity of endemic plants and contains outstanding examples of significant on-going ecological, biological and evolutionary processes. It also has some of the most important natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.  

Criterion (ix): The CFR is considered to be of universal value in that it represents outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and plant communities.

The CFR is one of the most intensively researched floral regions in the world. Certainly over the past 25 years, the Cape has enjoyed unparalleled co-operation between managers and scientists, fostered by Co-operative Scientific Programmes and the current Fynbos Forum. These structures add to the conservation of the natural systems, ensuring the continued operation of biodiversity patterns and processes.

The eight protected areas are medium to large, rangeing in area from 15 000 to 174 000 ha. In all, they cover 6% of the CFR but this core is buffered by  together with the safeguards afforded by surrounding protected areas reserves, and in particular, the contiguous area of the Cederberg / Groot Winterhoek / Boland Mountain Complex, increasing the this percentage increases to 20%. The large extent of the great size of the areas means that ensures that natural processes, such as fire regimes, can be maintainedare able to operate.

Two extreme scales of ecosystem processes are relevant to this discussion, namely: local- and large-scale. Local-scale processes include plant reproductive strategies, in some cases involving faunal pollinators such as rodents and seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory). These operate at the size of individual plant communities the protected areas or at a smaller scales. Disturbance at local scales However, local population declines could lead to extinction unless there is connectivity to areas from where recolonisation can occur. In addition to the size of the protected areas, the adjacent protected areas reserves fill this much needed connectivity gap and allow natural recolonisation of the protected areas. The added advantage is that these larger areas are supportive of large-scale ecological processes such as fire or drought and impart a greater diversity of altitudinal gradients to ensure climatic ranges, as well as a spatial spread, across the CFR.

The CFR forms a centre of active speciation where interesting patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation are found in the flora. In addition, the southwestern Cape represents a distinct zoogeographic zone, characterised by the phylogenetic antiquity of much of its invertebrate fauna. In addition to the natural processes of primary production, nutrient recycling, climatic extremes, predation and herbivory, competition, and major natural episodic events such as severe floods and droughts, the Cape flora is dependent on natural fire regimes and specialised pollination guilds. In view of the particular complexity of the flora it is vital that, within these protected areas, there is clear guidance from management plans, based on scientific understanding of these systems and processes.

With the exception of nutrient cycling by termites (largely restricted to Renosterveld), the ecological and biological processes in evolution, are relevant and applicable throughout the entire CFR. That is, they are equally important in all of the individual natural properties that make up the CFR Protected Areas, World Heritage Site. The combination of effective management plans for all protected areas; and, the large, relatively undisturbed protected areas with surrounding reserves (as well as strategies to link the protected areas with these reserves), suggests that natural processes operate within these areas to maintain the patterns and processes of biodiversity. Importantly, the mountainous terrain of many of these protected areas will provide refuges in the event of climate change thus contributing to the future conservation of the CFR's biodiversity.

Criterion (x): The plant richness of the CFR is concentrated in Phytogeographic Centres of endemism. Each and every one of these centres is represented in at least one of the protected areas. Hence, each protected area is unique and represents a priority site for biodiversity conservation within the CFR.

The substantial contribution to conserving biodiversity by the protected sites was exemplified in a study commissioned for the nomination process (Lombard, 2000). A sub-sample (non-random) of data on selected plant and vertebrate taxa in the CFR was analysed using GIS. The results showed that the seven protected areas analysed conserve close to half the number of plant species and selected vertebrate taxa of the region. (These totals are likely to be higher with the inclusion of the Table Mountain National Park, which was not included in the original study). This figure is even higher for endemic plants (69%) and for Proteaceae elements (59%).

The Cederberg, Swartberg and Baviaanskloof protected areas lie near the limits of the CFR. The steep altitudinal gradients linked by a stepped topography and soil changes at the interface of fynbos shrublands and arid karoo shrublands, provide a combination of physical features that determine the unique biota of these regions. Boosmansbos Wilderness Area harbours, in addition to its species-rich fynbos, well-developed forests. The climatic differences associated with Baviaanskloof in the east are, in themselves, sufficient to determine vegetation differences between this area and others in the CFR. The ecotonal areas between different vegetation types ensure that much of the diverse character of the CFR is conserved.

The De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the few reserves of a significant size that protects lowland fynbos and is also important in conserving coastal vegetation, which is at great risk to development elsewhere in the Cape. De Hoop contains unique limestone habitats with localised endemic plant species, and is further bounded by a marine reserve representing a zone of confluence of two oceans, making it an area of rich marine biota. De Hoop Nature Reserve is therefore an essential element in the conservation of the CFR.

The Cederberg- and Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Areas, along with the Boland Mountain Complex, together with their surrounding protected areas, form a valuable conservation band along the north-trending axis of the Cape Fold Belt. This imparts a high degree of protection to the levels of biodiversity that occur in this region of the south-western Cape. In particular, the Boland Mountain Complex, situated at the junction of the Cape Fold Mountains axes, includes the very heart of the fynbos - the hotspot for plant diversity (Anon, 1999). This protected area, not only includes some of the most diverse and endemic-rich flora in the world, but it is also an area of great beauty. Incorporating the pristine Palmiet River, it stretches from the coast in the south, extending northwards along rugged mountains with high peaks and deep valleys.


Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (CFRPA) World Heritage Property currently comprises eight protected areas with a total area of 553,000 ha and has a buffer zone, made up of declared Mountain Catchment Areas and other Protected Areas, of 1,315,000 ha. All the Protected Areas to be considered for inclusion in the extension nomination will have recent management plans, or have plans that are in the process of revision. They are legally protected and managed by the three authorities (SANParks, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and Eastern Cape Parks Board) that make up the recently established "CFRPA-WHS Joint Management Committee" along with the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.  The protected areas that will be selected will contribute to better representivity and connectivity as well as providing mitigation for Global Climate Change.

Comparison with other similar properties

The entire CFR has been identified as a centre of plant diversity since it satisfies the criteria of high species richness and levels of endemism. Species density in the CFR is amongst the highest in the world and is substantially higher than values from climatically similar (warm temperate to subtropical) regions. The richness of other Mediterranean regions of comparable area is relatively low.

Comparisons show that the Cape Flora compares favourably with floral diversity in some Neotropical rainforests, the most species-rich regions on earth, and with selected areas in southern Africa, Australia and North America that were not glaciated during the Pleistocene. For example, Panama supports about 7 300 seed plant species in an area of 75 000 km2 whereas the flora of Costa Rica (54 000 km2) comprises approximately 9 000 species. In comparison, 8 884 seed plant species (8 996 vascular plant species) are found in the CFR, extending over an area of 90 000 km2. The CFR also has much higher levels of species richness (density), and particularly of endemism, than several Mediterranean-type climate regions and islands representing 'hotspots' in the Mediterranean Sea. Only the larger islands of New Zealand and Madagascar have greater values for endemism.

The CFR is one of five Mediterranean-type climate regions of the world. Of these five, the CFR has the highest diversity at the scale of 10-106km2: For a given area, it has, on average, 1.7 times the diversity of southwestern Australia, about 2.2 times the diversity of California and the Mediterranean Basin, and 3.3 times the diversity of Chile.

Taking a regional and continental view of the CFR strongly reinforces its exceptional status. The whole of Africa encompasses an estimated total of 47 000 plant species. Almost half of these, 22 211 species, occur in southern Africa which largely falls within the temperate climate zone. This fact demonstrates that the entire southern African subcontinent, circumscribing the countries South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana has a very diverse flora, to which the CFR makes a central contribution. In fact the Cape Floristic Region hosts just under one fifth of all plant species in Africa, despite occupying less than 0.5% of the continent's area.

This extension consolidates and expands an existing WHS thus increasing its representivity and connectivity and fulfilling a requirement for extensions to existing world heritage sites as discussed at the recent UNESCO/IUCN expert meeting in Vilm, Germany.