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Succulent Karoo Protected Areas

Date of Submission: 18/03/2016
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Namibia National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Karas Region
Coordinates: S27°00’ E16°30’E to S28°49’ E18°00
Ref.: 6097
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Description

The Succulent Karoo biome is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot, and is the world's only arid hotspot. The 116 000 km2 biome extends from the south-west through the north-western areas of South Africa and into southern Namibia. The biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic and 936 (17%) of which are listed in the Red Data Book. In addition to its floral diversity, 27 amphibian species, 29% of which are endemic; 121 reptile species, 20% of which are endemic; 68 mammal species, 9% of which are endemic; and 431 bird species have thus far been recorded.

Name(s) of the component part(s)

Portions of Huns-Ai-Ais and Sperrgebiet Parks

Description of the component part(s)

The Huns-Ai-Ais Park in Namibia represents an extremely rugged, winter-rainfall dominated area with Upland Succulent Karoo vegetation. It is very well preserved and maintains very high populations of endemic succulent flora and associated animal life for which the area will be nominated. It forms a contiguous and established transboundary conservation area with the Richtersveld National Park of South Africa.

The Sperrgebiet Park is adjacent to the Huns-Ai-Ais Park and also forms part of the established transboundary conservation area with South Africa. It is dominated by Lowland Succulent Karoo flora occurring on its extensive sandy plains, coastal dunes, and outcrops of hilly terrain. Its floral and faunal elements represent the more arid spectrum of the ecological and biodiversity components of the proposed nomination as it merges with the Namib Desert Biome towards the north.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The rich biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo is due to an extensive and complex array of habitat types derived from topographical and climatic diversity in the region's rugged mountains, semi-arid shrublands, and coastal dunes. The hallmark of the Succulent Karoo is its exceptionally diverse and endemic-rich flora. This biodiversity is due to massive speciation of an arid-adapted biota in response to unique climatic conditions and high environmental heterogeneity. The conditions have remained relatively stable for a long period, thus facilitating the persistence of the products of evolution. The high regional plant richness is the result of high compositional change of species-rich communities along environmental and geographical gradients. Many species are extreme habitat specialists, mainly related to soil-type, of limited range size. Local endemism (i.e. the restriction of species to extremely small ranges of less than 50 km2) is most pronounced among succulents, especially Mesembryanthemaceae, and bulbs. Similar patterns of compositional change along gradients have been observed for certain groups of invertebrates.

Criterion (ix): The rich biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo is due to an extensive and complex array of habitat types derived from topographical and climatic diversity in the region's rugged mountains, semi-arid shrublands, and coastal dunes. The hallmark of the Succulent Karoo is its exceptionally diverse and endemic-rich flora. This biodiversity is due to massive speciation of an arid-adapted biota in response to unique climatic conditions and high environmental heterogeneity. The conditions have remained relatively stable for a long period, thus facilitating the persistence of the products of evolution. The high regional plant richness is the result of high compositional change of species-rich communities along environmental and geographical gradients.

Criterion (x): The biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic and 936 (17%) of which are listed in the Red Data Book. In addition to its floral diversity, 27 amphibian species, 29% of which are endemic; 121 reptile species, 20% of which are endemic; 68 mammal species, 9% of which are endemic; and 431 bird species have thus far been recorded.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Planning (SKEP) process, funded by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, compiled an ecosystem profile that identified nine priority areas for conservation within the Succulent Karoo. Through the SKEP process, specific areas within each of these nine priority areas are being identified and targeted for elevated conservation status.  Priority areas in Namibia already have national legal protected status in the Huns-Ai-is and Sperrgebiet Parks. These protected areas in Namibia are of sufficient size to cater for criteria (ix) and are placed in areas that capture the maximum biodiversity for criteria (x). They are adequately managed and are not threatened by development pressures. Mining impacts within the Succulent Karoo are generally localized, are subject to EIA legislation and regulations, and are not situated close to priority areas. The SKEP process will verify the contribution of these protected areas and whether or not they are correctly placed and have the correct configuration to meet the conservation targets that have been set for conservation of biodiversity "pattern and process". It is envisaged that the existing legally conserved areas will be evaluated with regard to their suitability to contribute to a Succulent Karoo Protected Areas (SKPA) WHS transnational serial nomination.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

The Namibian components do not only contain some of the best preserved populations of rare and unique species endemic to the Succulent Karoo, but also a significant proportion of endemic species of the Succulent Karoo as a whole that are only found in the more arid parts of that ecosystem. The Namibian components furthermore represent some of the most intact and contiguous protected areas of the proposed nomination as a whole.

Comparison with other similar properties

The only other comparable serial nomination for an entire internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot is the adjacent Cape Floral Region Protected Areas WHS.  Due to large regions of "overlap" between these two contiguous hotspots, where transition from one to the other can occur over very small distances, the addition of the SKPA would, in many cases, be mutually complementary.

The IUCN has identified the Succulent Karoo as a very definite gap on the World Heritage list, being the most biologically diverse arid area in the world.