Biodiversity catastrophe

A recent survey by DARDLEA shows that there is plenty to worry about when it comes to preserving Mpumalanga’s biodiversity.

Species and ecosystems of conservation concern in Mpumalanga

The Awareness Office, Environmental Services of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA) recently published Species and ecosystems of conservation concern in Mpumalanga. The booklet aims to provide scientifically reliable information about the state of Mpumalanga’s biodiversity, and lists the species and ecosystems under threat.

First of all, one needs to understand what biodiversity is:

…the variety of life found on Earth and all of the natural processes. Biodiversity describes the diversity of life at three different levels: the number of different species, the genetic wealth within each species, and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.

Central to the concept of biodiversity is the understanding that all organisms interact, like a web of life, with every other element in their local environment. Each part within this complex web diminishes a little when one part weakens or disappears.

South Africa is listed as the world’s third most biodiverse countries. Even though we cover only about 2 percent of the world’s land, South Africa is estimated to contain some 10 percent of the world’s plant species and 7 percent of its terrestrial vertebrates. Even more remarkable, about 80 percent of our plant species, 30 percent of our reptiles, 15 percent of our mammals and 6 percent of our bird species are all endemic—that is, they only occur here.

It uses the familiar Red Lists to identify and categorise species and ecosystems at risk. It is sobering to note that South Africa’s much-vaunted biodiversity is threatened: we have close to 2 300 Threatened Red List species.

These facts paint the picture:

  • One in five terrestrial and freshwater mammal species is threatened
  • One in five freshwater fish species is threatened
  • One in seven frog species is threatened
  • One in seven bird species is threatened
  • One in eight plant species is threatened
  • One in twelve reptile species is threatened
  • One in twelve butterfly species is threatened

The booklet paints a picture of a province under threat. Half of Mpumalanga’s natural habitat has already been irreversibly modified, mostly through large-scale agriculture, plantation forestry and mining, and there is currently rapid growth in the number of applications for prospecting and mining rights, particularly for coal. In addition to causing direct habitat loss, these activities have significant impacts on Mpumalanga’s water security.

There are 32 threatened terrestrial ecosystems in Mpumalanga. 23 (nearly 72%) of the threatened terrestrial ecosystems fall partially or entirely in our Grasslands: one ecosystem is Critically Endangered, nine ecosystems are Endangered and 13 ecosystems are classified as Vulnerable. The Dullstroom Plateau Grasslands fall into the Endangered category.

When it comes to threatened species, some of the birds (including the Wattled Crane and White-Winged Flufftail), invertebrates and plants occur on Verloren Valei.

The booklet also provides guidelines to the relevant legislation and also what individuals and landowners can do to preserve biodiversity.

This is a must read for anyone interested in conservation, and I can e-mail you the booklet in PDF format – just drop me a mail.

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