the cape floristic region

Biodiversity describes the variety of life in an area, including: the number of different species, the genetic wealth within each species, the interrelationships between them, and the natural areas where they occur.

South Africa is one of 17 mega-diverse countries on the planet. Its terrestrial ecosystems are characterized by high levels of species diversity and endemism (species found nowhere else on Earth), particularly in plants, with the third highest number of vascular plant species in the world. With 1.2% of the earth’s total land surface, South Africa contains almost 10% of the world’s total known bird, fish and plant species, and over 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species. The country’s marine and coastal ecosystems, straddling the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, include an exceptional range of habitats, with almost 15% of known coastal and marine species. 

Not only is the biodiversity of the country extremely diverse, but it is also highly threatened by a range of human activities including rapid urban expansion, expanding mining and agricultural sectors, and high levels of demand on resources including fish stocks, rangeland and water. 

The country has three globally recognized biodiversity hotspots, namely, the Cape Floristic Region (one of the world’s six Floral Kingdoms), the Succulent Karoo Hotspot (shared with Namibia, and one of only two arid hotspots in the world), and the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Hotspot (shared with Mozambique and Swaziland). 

The Cape Floristic Region (CFR), sometimes also called the Cape Floral Kingdom and corresponding to the fynbos biome, covers nearly 90 000 km2. It stretches from the Cederberg in the north-west, around the Western Cape coast and into the Eastern Cape up to the Nelson Mandela Metropole.  

The CFR is world famous for its dramatic and varied land- and seascapes and its astonishing diversity of plant and animal life. With 9 600 recorded plant species, 70% of them found nowhere else on the planet, and under increasing pressure from human development, it is one of the world's 34 most threatened biodiversity hotspots.

While many mountainous areas in the CFR have been set aside for conservation, the natural vegetation of the region's lowlands has increasingly been removed to make way for agriculture, resort development and urban expansion, and ecosystems have also been damaged by the invasion of alien plants.  The region's exceptional species diversity is a result of its wealth of different habitats, each with its own topography, soils and climatic conditions - from semiarid ecosystems, through moist east coast forests, unique wetland and river systems, down to the coastal zone and up to the high mountains.   The dominant vegetation of the region is fynbos (Afrikaans for "fine bush").  This fire-prone, scleophyllous shrubland covers just over 80% of the land area and accounts for more than 7 000 of the plant species identified in the CFR. In the lowlands, fynbos is replaced by renosterveld (Afrikaans for "rhinoceros scrub"), an ericoid shrubland, and coastal dunes and thickets that sustain an extremely high density of plants and animals threatened with extinction.

Natural resource economists have estimated the total economic value of the Cape Floristic Region's biodiversity - including plants, animals, scenery, ecosystems and ecosystem services like water purification and erosion control - at over R10 billion per year, the equivalent of over 10% of the Western Cape's Gross Geographic Product.

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