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Ecology of the Maputoland - Pondoland-Albany region


Ponta do Ouro falls within a region that is regarded as one of the richest bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. It falls within the northern most part of this system and currently there is probably less know about this region than the others. There is a major thrust in the region to preserve it’s current natural state with funds pouring in from all over the world to assist the community to ensure they are not pressurised to exploit their resources to survive.


Ecosystem Diversity and Status - extract from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund


Floristically Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany is very complex, with endemic plants and areas of high diversity throughout the region. Six of South Africa’s eight terrestrial biomes and three of South Africa’s six marine bioregions occur in the hotspot. The hotspot contains an eclectic mix of vegetation types with an unusually high level of endemism: one type of forest, three types of thicket, six types of bushveld and five types of grassland are endemic to the hotspot. Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany also boasts a unique succulent flora and its forests have the highest species richness of any temperate forests on the planet. The region’s freshwater systems are some of the most diverse in Southern Africa, with species richness ranking near that of the Okavango Delta. Finally, the adjacent marine environment is equally diverse with a range of unique reef types in the sub tidal and the shelf supporting a poorly known soft sediment benthos (inhabiting mud, sands and authigenic sediments) and shifting submarine dunes, whereas the shelf edge is incised by submarine canyons. The terrestrial diversity of the hotspot is generally categorized according to three main centers of endemism each known in their own right for their special and unique ecosystems. In the north, the largest of the three, the Maputaland Center, is typified by lush riverine and estuary habitats, diverse savannah and foothill grasslands, and highly specialized and threatened dune forests and extends from the border of KwaZulu-Natal to the Limpopo River in Mozambique, including small portions of that country. The Drakensberg Mountains make up the eastern boundary of Maputaland and extends through the Swaziland lowveld, including about 40 percent of that country. Evolutionarily, this region has strong floristic and faunistic connections with the Coastal 5 Forests of Eastern Africa Hotspot to the north. South of the Umtavuna River (roughly correlating with the South African provincial boundary between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape), the renowned matrix of forest and grasslands of the Pondoland Center of endemism emerges. River valleys are typified by extensive waterfalls and pools that provide important habitats for freshwater and marine fish spawning. The Pondoland region lies completely in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa and extends and blends into the more extensive and southernmost center of the Albany Center, which is also exclusively within the Eastern Cape Provincial boundary of South Africa and is typified by subtropical thicket habitats dominated by spekboom (Portulacaria afra), a small shrub that has adapted to the high-browsing pressure of elephants and other herbivores in the region and now, due to its high carbon sequestration capacity, provides one of South Africa’s few opportunities to capitalize on emerging carbon markets. The Albany Center also is characterized by ecotones between the thicket, fynbos (from the Cape Floristic Region Hotspot) and the Succulent and Nama Karoo habitats, demonstrating the importance of this region as an area where climatic impacts on habitat shifts are most likely to be evidenced. The forests of the hotspot, despite their naturally fragmented distribution in river valleys and gorges, are of special interest. About 80 percent of South Africa’s remaining forests fall within this hotspot. In the less than 30,000 kmÇ of forest vegetation cover in the hotspot, at least 598 tree species occur. This richness in tree species is exceeded only in the forests of East Asia, where 876 species grow in a much larger area (Steenkamp et al. 2004). Degradation of forests, especially in riverine areas, can lead to erosion and sedimentation threats downstream and in the inshore marine zone of the hotspot. The thicket biome of southern Africa, the largest part of which occurs within the Albany Center of the hotspot, is thought to be the most species-rich formation of woody plants within South Africa. It is characterized by a unique suite of plant forms: evergreen shrubs (predominantly), tall succulents, a wealth of climbers, and—intriguingly—very little grass. Thicket is most extensive in the southeast of the country, principally along the coastal parts of the Gouritz, Gamtoos,


Sundays and Great Fish River valleys (Knight and Cowling 2006). By 1981, 9 percent of this biome had been permanently transformed. Since then, these figures have probably increased significantly. Only 5 percent of the thicket biome is formally protected in South Africa. It has been suggested that the thickets are extremely ancient and include many elements basal to the Cape and Succulent Karoo flora (Steenkamp et al. 2004). In addition to forest and thicket, grassland is also important in this hotspot, especially as it is the most threatened and least protected of all the biome types in southern Africa. Approximately 30 percent of South Africa’s grasslands are irreversibly transformed and only 2 percent are formally conserved. For example, the endemic Pondoland coastal plateau sourveld grassland type is critically endangered and is threatened by sugar-cane production, commercial timber plantations and overgrazing (Steenkamp et al. 2004). The region’s highly diverse freshwater systems fall into two broad ecoregions, the Zambezian Lowveld Freshwater ecoregion and the Southern Temperate Highveld that both extend beyond the boundary of the hotspot, and the Amatolo-Winterberg Freshwater Ecoregion that lies entirely within the hotspot. The Southern Temperate Highveld Ecoregion, equivalent to the majority of the grassland regions within the hotspot, has been assessed as Endangered as a result of the impacts of overgrazing and overextraction while the other two ecoregions are recognized as Vulnerable due to loss of habitat and unsustainable levels of water extraction. For example, by the mid-1980s, more than 58 percent of the Mfolozi river catchment in the KwaZulu-Natal region of Maputaland had been lost to development and agriculture (Dawell et al, 2009.) 6 Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany also has a remarkable succulent flora that is mainly concentrated

in the Albany region. The succulent riches of southern Africa are well known; especially that of the Succulent Karoo Hotspot. More than 46 percent (4,674 taxa in 58 families) of the world’s succulents grow naturally in southern Africa. Whereas leaf succulents predominate in the western, mainly winter-rainfall parts of southern Africa, the succulents of Maputaland- Pondoland-Albany are predominantly stem succulents (Steenkamp et al. 2004). Two countries in the hotspot, Mozambique and South Africa, host lengthy and diverse coastlines that harbor extensive marine diversity, as well as a variety of coastal habitats, ranging from dunes, coastal lagoons and mangroves.


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Ecology of the Maputoland - Pondoland-Albany region - Ponta do Ouro falls within a region that is regarded as one of the richest bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. It falls within the northern most part of this system and currently there is probably less know about this region than the others. There is a major thrust in the region to preserve it’s current natural state with funds pouring in from all over the world to assist the community to ensure they are not pressurised to exploit their resources to survive.

Elephant Coast Africa Region information

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