Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fynbos Plant Kingdom and the Bird diversity in Cape Peninsula – South Africa

[FOGSL member Nishanthi Perera recently visited Cape Town, South Africa to participate at the DIVERSITAS 2nd Open Science Conference on ‘Biodiversity and society: Understanding connections, adapting to change’. She wishes to share her experience on Nature of Cape Peninsula with our readers.]
South Africa is the only country in the world with its own floral kingdom, which is known as the Cape Floral kingdom. Of the six floral kingdoms of the world - Antarctic, Australasian, Boreal, Neotropic, Paleotropic and Cape - the Cape is the smallest and richest, with the highest known concentration of plant species. This floristic Region is home to the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world, with 9,000 species crammed into its small extent. Incredibly, more than 6,200 (69 percent) of these species are found nowhere else in the world. Furthermore, five of South Africa's 12 endemic plant families and 160 endemic genera are found only in this region. Table Mountain alone has almost 1,500 species in 57 square kilometers. The area is one of the 34 global hotspots, and is one of the only two hotspots that encompass an entire floral kingdom (the other being New Caledonia).The Fynbos comprises of hard-leafed, evergreen, and fire-prone shrubs that thrives on the region's rocky or sandy nutrient-poor soils. The tallest shrubs are the proteoids and are 1- 3 meters in height and have large, leathery leaves. South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea (Protea cynaroides), is perhaps the most famous species of Fynbos, along with Ericas and reeds (which is known as Restia). The Fynbos Biome bears a certain resemblance to the vegetation in other Mediterranean or winter rainfall regions, as it has to adapt to wet winters and dry summers. The Table Mountain National Park as well as the Kristenbosh Botanical garden is a showcase for this flora, with representative examples of all the major communities. I had the opportunity to visit both places and became mesmerized with the colorful splendor they present.
The mountains may appear to be a botanical paradise and a zoological desert at the first glance, as you won’t find any of Africa’s Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, black rhino and buffalo) here, but rather a number of smaller mammals such as baboons, jackals, duikers, and bontebok and gysbok antelopes, which are dependent on the Fynbos for their survival. Other Fynbos species include the rare ‘Geometric Tortoise’, and the endangered ‘Table Mountain Ghost Frog’. Beneath the shrubby flora there is a teeming world of small creatures, which lives in partnership with the plants. For example, some Fynbos species rely on Pugnacious ants to burry their seeds protecting them from fire and predators. In return, the ants are rewarded with a “snack” called 'Elaiosome' (fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds) by these seeds.
The avifauna of the Cape Floristic Region is characterized by low diversity, most likely the result of structural uniformity in the vegetation and a shortage of available food. Of the 320 or so regularly occurring species of land birds here, only six are endemic. Nevertheless, the area is considered an Endemic Bird Area by BirdLife International.
During a bird watching trip on the 17th October, we were able spot more than 120 species. When strolling among the beautiful flowers at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens it is quite easy to observe some important Fynbos endemics such as Orange-breasted Sunbird, and Cape Sugarbird. Cape Francolin, Double-collard Sunbird, Southern Boubou, Cape Thrush, Cape Robin-chat, Karoo Prinia, and Speckled Mousebird are some of the birds abound the gardens. Raptors such Black Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Kestrel were also observed. Two Spotted Eagle Owls were also found roosting on a tree. One of the most distinctive brides at Kristenbosh is the Helmeted Guineafowl, while species such as Cape Suprfowl, Egyptian Goose and Hadeda Ibis were also spotted walking and flying among the bushes.
After Kristenbosch, we stopped at the False Bay Ecology Park, which is a leading conservation, environmental education, recreation and ecotourism centre. The park is home to around 235 bird species including Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Lesser Flamingos, and large number of waders. As in Sri Lanka the Flamingos do not breed at the site, but many juveniles resided within this wetland throughout the year.
Around 30 African Jackass Penguins, which are globally threatned, were spotted at the Boulders Beach, which is part of the Table Mountain National Park. Today there are an estimated 11,000 breeding pairs of Jackass Penguins at this location. According to the tour operators one can also swim amongst these Penguins, but the cold Atlantic waters prevented us from attempting it. The Cape region has been heavily settled for several centuries, and large areas of natural vegetation, particularly in the lowlands, have been cleared for agriculture and urban development. Invasive alien species, both plant and animal, together with altered fire regimes, pose great threats to this eco-region.
The Cape Floral Kingdom contains eight protected areas which comprise the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site that also includes Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the first time that a botanical garden has been recognized as a world heritage site for its biodiversity. Download the ‘Book of Abstracts’ (2.5MB) to read the abstract on “Challenges in maintaining the Ramsar Wetland of international importance status at Bundala wetland complex in Sri Lanka” by Nishanthi Perera and Sarath Kotagama (Page 244) presented at this conference.


Anonymous said...

It was rather interesting for me to read that post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

facinating article with lot of interesting info and beautiful pictures. Would like to read more on this blog soon.

Thanks for sharing.

Shawn said...

Great Shots of various places and birds! I'd like you to visit my blog, Creatures in the Wild!