Photo credit: Gustav Pretorious
The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) is an ecosystem unique to South Africa. It is recognised as one of the six floral kingdoms of the world and, given its biodiversity and potential high level of endism, has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a major tourist attraction, the CFR contributes significantly to the economy of South Africa, and many communities surrounding the CFR depend on this income. In addition, quite a number of fynbos species are used by local communities for medicinal purposes – a practice that goes hand-in-hand with a wealth of traditional knowledge in itself unique to these communities. To help safeguard this treasure, the NVT contributes significantly to research on and creating community awareness around southern Cape Fynbos.
Since birds are important pollinators, the NVT has an ongoing programme that monitors the presence and movement of birds in the fynbos area contained within the Garden Route National Park’s Tsitsikamma section. Given that climate change may impact the migration and movement of birds, bird-ringing enables us to keep track of any noticeable changes in bird presence and to take proactive steps towards sustaining important bird populations.
Based on our findings to date, indications are that for some bird species, the park provides sufficient food sources throughout the year, but that the endemic Cape Sugarbird is not sustained within the park’s fynbos, as its main food source does not flower for parts of the year. Consequently, this species has to rely on other fynbos patches in the landscape to sustain itself. Based on our research, the NVT is now in a position to inform SANParks’ efforts to work with local stakeholders (farms, municipalities, etc.) to protect fragmented fynbos patches in an attempt to encourage a fynbos mosaic in the landscape that will support bird species. This will not only help with the protection of an important (and rare) ecosystem but also with the protection of an essential natural resource.
Seasonal events such as changes in temperature and day length will, typically, trigger certain responses in plants (e.g. budburst, flowering, dormancy, migration and hibernation). Severe changes in the climate can result in these responses taking place earlier or later than they would normally. In turn, this has a knock-on effect on birds and insects which have certain timed relationships with plants, resulting in an imbalance within the ecosystem. Fynbos is also a fire-sensitive biome and without fire, the outcome will be plant senescence ultimately leading to a loss of fynbos and a homogenous landscape.
The NVT’s long-term goal is to evaluate whether climate change is having an effect on plants’ flowering times and, consequently, bird and insect pollinators. Furthermore, the NVT recognises the importance of fire in sustaining this important ecosystem and is exploring potential collaboration with local authorities to put an appropriate fire management plan for the area in place.
Educational walks are also hosted for learners and the general public along the national park’s hiking trails through the fynbos. These “flower walks” are aimed at creating awareness of and promoting appreciation for this biome with a specific focus on unique plant-animal relationships as well as the medicinal value and rich traditional knowledge surrounding fynbos. Find out more here. To date, several educational resources have been developed for school groups and the public alike, highlighting what is discussed along these walks.
Linking back to the above-mentioned research on phenology, this study aims to identify the key pollinators for a number of select flowering species in the national park with a view to gaining a better understanding of the relationship between plant and pollinator and how best to protect this vital relationship.
If we know who the key pollinators are (e.g. birds or bees), we will be in a better position to work with local authorities, communities and stakeholders to arrive at the best possible solutions to safeguard the ecosystem and the natural resources it provides. As an extension, this study can potentially also inform the usage of pesticides in nearby vineyards and the management of industrial waste by-products.
Yet again, this study paves the way for discussions with private and public landowners on how best to protect patches of fynbos in an attempt to sustain pollinator populations and, ultimately, to improve the health of the ecosystem. Ultimately, a healthy plant-pollinator relationship will lead to better production and food security for communities, and awareness will lead to better management and consumption of natural resources.
It is anticipated that information stemming from the fynbos programme will not only result in highly informative awareness and educational material (e.g. a field guide for Nature’s Valley), but will also serve to inform an envisaged study on how best to link fragmented fynbos patches.
- Pollination studies: an in-depth investigation into the variety of different pollination syndromes we find in the fynbos biomes. These include insect pollination (bees, moths, monkey beetles, etc), bird pollination, and rodent pollination.
- Post-fire successional studies.
- Large and small mammal diversity studies