Important areas for plant diversity identified and incorporated into conservation processes
Contributors: L. von Staden & M. Lotter
South Africa has the richest temperate flora globally. Three regions of high plant diversity and endemism: the Cape Floristic Region, the Succulent Karoo Region and the Maputaland–Pondoland Region, and 15 centres of plant endemism have been recognised by Van Wyk & Smith (2001) for South Africa (Figure 17). Van Wyk and Smith’s system defines broad areas important for plant diversity based on expert opinion. There is currently a need for a more fine-scale, objective analysis of floristic patterns for the identification of important plant areas that can be integrated into existing conservation processes.
In 2004, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) tried to identify important plant areas based on the Important Plant Area criteria developed by PlantLife International. However, insufficient fine-scale plant distribution data available at the time prevented the application of the criteria in a practical manner, and the Important Plant Areas (IPAs) concept was not implemented in South Africa.
In the meantime, systematic conservation planning was adopted as the standard approach to identify important areas for the persistence of the full spectrum of biodiversity. Major advances in methodology as well as recently available datasets have allowed systematic conservation plans to be developed at ever finer scales, and these plans are now key instruments guiding site-level land-use decisions and protected area expansion priorities.
With the amalgamation of the Important Plant Areas concept with other site-based conservation-prioritisation programmes into a global standard, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), it is necessary to revisit our approach to the identification and conservation of areas important for plant diversity, to ensure alignment with this new standard in our reporting on Target 5. KBA criteria emphasise globally threatened species and ecosystems, geographically restricted species and ecosystems, centres of endemism, and areas of high ecological integrity. Whereas there is agreement with KBA principles for the identification of important areas, the KBA criteria are out of step with well-established practices of biodiversity target-setting within the South African conservation planning community, and preliminary testing showed the criteria to be too land-hungry within a megadiverse country context. For consistency and integration with current conservation practices within South Africa, it is therefore necessary to align the identification of areas important for plant diversity with established conservation planning methods, but it must be ensured that all important elements emphasised by the global standard are represented.
Systematic conservation plans typically set targets for ecosystems, threatened species, and areas important for ecosystem services and landscape-level functional processes – a concept analogous to areas of ecological integrity highlighted in KBA criteria. The missing key elements are centres of endemism and geographically restricted, but not threatened species. The objective for Target 5 is therefore to use the fine-scale plant occurrence datasets that have become available over the past decade to objectively define centres of endemism and areas of high species diversity at a scale that can be used as a biodiversity feature, together with existing datasets on ecosystems and threatened species, in systematic conservation plans.
Progress on this target will be measured in terms of how well important areas for plant diversity are represented in:
Formal protected area networks.
Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs) identified through systematic conservation plans and taken up legislatively via bioregional and biodiversity sector plans.
Target 5 outcomes for 2020
5.1. Important areas for plant diversity in South Africa identified based on botanical richness and endemism patterns.
5.2. Important areas for plant diversity incorporated into biodiversity planning processes and protected area expansion strategies.
|Target 5: Important areas for plant diversity identified and incorporated into conservation processes|
|5.1. Important areas for plant diversity in South Africa identified based on botanical richness and endemism patterns.||5.1.1. All fine-scale plant occurrence data collated from herbarium specimens, atlasing projects and from relevé data collected for vegetation mapping and/or other ecological or conservation projects.||5.1.1. SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme.||5.1.1. 2015|
|5.1.2. Data analysed to identify areas of high plant richness and endemism.||5.1.2. SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme and biodiversity planners from Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency (MTPA).||5.1.2. 2016|
|5.1.3. Publication produced on the areas of importance for plant diversity, which includes information on endemic species.||5.1.3. SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme and biodiversity planners from Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency (MTPA).||5.1.3. 2016|
|5.2. Important areas for plant diversity incorporated into biodiversity planning processes and protected area expansion strategies.||5.2.1. A spatial layer of important areas for plant diversity produced and provided to provincial biodiversity planners.||5.2.1. SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme.||5.2.1. 2017|
|5.2.2. Important areas for plant diversity provided as features for inclusion in biodiversity planning and protected area expansion processes.||5.2.2. Biodiversity planners from the nine provincial conservation authorities.||5.2.2. 2017|