Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
A serial site – in Cape Province, South Africa – made up of eight protected areas, covering 553,000 ha, the Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region. The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora, are of outstanding value to science.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Cape Floral Region has been recognised as one of the most special places for plants—in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species—in the world. Covering less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora, this extraordinary assemblage of plant life and its associated fauna is represented by a series of eight protected areas covering an area of 553,000 ha. These protected areas also conserve the outstanding ecological, biological and evolutionary processes associated with the beautiful and distinctive Fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape Floral Region.
Criterion (ix): The property is considered of outstanding universal value for representing ongoing ecological and biological processes associated with the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome. These processes are represented generally within the Cape Floral Region and captured in the eight protected areas. Of particular scientific interest are the plant reproductive strategies including the adaptive responses to fire of the flora and the patterns of seed dispersal by insects. The pollination biology and nutrient cycling are other distinctive ecological processes found in the site. The Cape Floral Region forms a centre of active speciation where interesting patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation are found in the flora.
Criterion (x): The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants than for any similar sized area in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. Some 69% of the estimated 9,000 plant species in the region are endemic, with some 1,435 species identified as threatened. The Cape Floral Region has been identified as one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hot spots.
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas currently comprises a serial property of eight protected areas covering a total area of 553,000 ha, and includes a buffer zone of 1,315,000 ha designed to facilitate functional connectivity and mitigate the effects of global climate change and other anthropogenic influences. At the time of inscription six of the protected areas were surrounded by other conservation lands, while the Boland Mountain Complex was surrounded by mostly rural land uses. The area facing the greatest external pressures is the Cape Peninsula National Park, and progress for increased protection through public awareness and social programmes to combat poverty, mountain catchment areas and stewardship programmes is being made. The collection of eight protected areas, all of which have management plans, adds up in a synergistic manner to present the biological richness and evolutionary story of the Cape Floral Region.
Protection and management requirements
The property is legally protected and managed by three authorities (South African National Parks, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and Eastern Cape Parks Board), which, with the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, make up the “Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Property Joint Management Committee”. Knowledge management systems are being expanded to better advise planning and management decision-making, thereby facilitating the efficient use of limited, but increasing resources related to the management of fire and alien invasive plants in particular.
There is currently a process underway to achieve the proclamation of the serial property as a World Heritage Site in terms of the World Heritage Convention Act (Act No. 49 of 1999). Once the serial property is proclaimed as a World Heritage Site its status will automatically be recognized as a protected area and thus enjoy protection in terms of the following key environmental laws: National Environmental Management Act (Act No. 107 of 1998), the Physical Planning Act (Act No. 88 of 1967), National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Act No 10 of 2004) and National Environmental Management: Protected Areas (Act 57 of 2003). In terms of these pieces of legislation, mining or prospecting is completely prohibited in a World Heritage Site and all developments are subjected to environmental impact assessments.
The greatest challenges facing the property at this time are invasive species and fire. Longer-term threats include climate change and development pressures caused by a growing population, particularly in the Cape Peninsula. Invasive species are being dealt with through manual control programmes that have been used as a reference for other parts of the world, and all of the sites are managed in accordance with agreed management plans.
The Cape Floral Region is located in the south-west corner of South Africa in the Cape Province. The site's eight clusters form a representative sample of the eight phytogeographical centres of the region. Elevations range from 2,077 m in the Groot Winterhoek to sea level in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. A great part of the area is characterized by rugged mountain passes, rivers, rapids, cascades and pools.
The area has been called the world's 'hottest hot-spot' for plant diversity and endemism and has been designated as one of the World Centres of Plant Diversity. It has some 44% of the subcontinental flora of 20,367 species (vascular plant species), including endemic and subendemic families and threatened species. The Cape Peninsula contains almost half of these species, with 25% of the flora of the whole region. The richness is due to the wide variety of macrohabitats and microhabitat mosaics resulting from the range of elevations, soils and climatic conditions, including the co-existence of winter-rainfall species with summer-rainfall species from further east. The flora is also characterized by concentrations of relict endemics and massive ongoing speciation due to its isolation in an area of very long established climatic stability. The flora of each area is sufficiently distinct to justify representation of the region by several sites, each of which is large enough to preserve the genetic viability of its types of diversity and to accommodate large-scale natural processes such as fire and drought. Eight phytogeographical centres of endemism have been distinguished in the Cape Floral Region.
The distinctive flora of the region, comprising 80% of its richness, is the fynbos (fine bush), fine-leaved vegetation adapted to both the Mediterranean type of climate and to periodic fires, and defined by the location or dominant species. Plant variety is based on soil types which vary from predominantly coarse, sandy, acidic nutrient-poor soils, to alkaline marine sands and slightly richer alluvials. There are pockets of evergreen forest in fire-protected gorges and on deeper soils; in the east are valley thickets and succulent thickets, which are less fire-dependent, and in the drier north, low succulent Karoo shrubland.
Four other characteristics of the Cape Floral Region of global scientific interest are:
- the responses of the plants to fire;
- seed dispersal by ants and termites;
- the high level (83%) of plant pollination by insects, mainly beetles and flies;
- its linkages to Gondwanaland allowing reconstruction of the flora's ancient connections.
Adaptation to fire include geophytes that sprout from underground and seed storage both underground and in the canopy, some species requiring fire for germination. Ants take the seeds to eat the lipid deposits; about 28% of the region's flora, including over half of the Proteaceae, is dispersed by them. Most of the shrubs so dispersed are both endemic and threatened species but the latter lack a way of regenerating after fire. Pollination and nutrient-cycling by termites, and termite-mound communities are notable and the region has very high levels of bird- and mammal-pollinated plants.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC