Biodiversity

Biodiversity is not just about a list of species, but rather about a series of relationships in a complex web, which we are only just beginning to identify, let alone understand. Each part within this complex web diminishes a little when one part weakens or disappears.

Biodiversity considers species, genetic and ecosystem diversity, amongst others.

Biodiversity is the foundation for a healthy planet (and human well-being). It is now believed that richly diverse ecosystems are more resilient and better able to recover from such stresses as drought or human-induced habitat destruction than less diverse systems. Greater diversity offers a range of pathways for ecological processes, such as nutrient recycling; if one pathway is damaged or destroyed, alternatives are available to allow the ecosystem to continue functioning at its usual level. Diminished diversity puts the functioning of ecosystems at risk.

Biodiversity is extremely valuable:

  • Our natural biodiversity cleans our water and air, prevents flooding and holds our soil in place. These services are amazingly effective and provided at no financial cost.
  • Biodiversity provides the complex genetic pool that provides us with food and medicines. Wild genes can improve crops by providing resistance to disease or changes in climate. In addition, over 21 000 plants around the world have reported medicinal uses. 
  • This highlights the value of retaining biodiversity for future use.  Perhaps one day in the future a cure for a deadly disease, a crop or horticultural species will be discovered in one of our plants.
  • In Cape Town, and indeed in many areas in the world, a spectacular natural environment supports the tourism industry, providing livelihoods to many. Livelihoods are also provided by the harvesting of flowers such as proteas, medicinal plants such as buchu, and the production of clean spring water.
  • Our natural environment provides us with a place for our children to learn about and experience nature, enjoy open space for recreation, beauty and tranquility.
  • It is valuable in and of itself – just as any person or life has value. Where a species of animal or plant occurs nowhere else in the world we have a particular responsibility to ensure its survival – once the last of a species dies an entire genetic history is destroyed.

Biodiversity in Cape Town

The earth is divided into six floral kingdoms. These are regions in which the vegetation (plant groups) is distinctive from that found elsewhere in the world. The south-western corner of South Africa is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest of the earth’s six floral kingdoms.

Not only is it the smallest of the world’s floral kingdoms, it also has the highest density of plant species.  The Cape Floral Kingdom has almost 9 000 different plant species and many animal species. 

Cape Town is situated in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, making it an area of global importance, otherwise known as a global ’hotspot’ of biodiversity.  In fact, Cape Town is known internationally as a global biodiversity hotspot without parallel.

Many species which occur in Cape Town are found only here and occur nowhere else on earth. These species are known as endemics. Cape Town has the dubious distinction of also being one of the earth’s mega-disaster areas – those areas that are on the verge of losing a significant part of their biodiversity. This is a serious
problem as endemic species face extinction.Cape Town is also rich in animal biodiversity and is surrounded by a unique and diverse marine (sea) environment, which supports many different marine plants and animals such as Abalone, Southern Right Whale and Great White Shark. 

source: SMART Living Handbook

Other biodiversity topics

Local biodiversity facts
Tackling invasive aliens
Biodiversity contacts and resources

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