Eco Travel Africa Guide to accommodations, adventures, African safaris, eco-tourism tours, wildlife, maps and routes
 

Guide to the Biomes (biotic communities) of South Africa

 
Biomes
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  
 

Groupings called Biomes (biotic communities) have been described for plants and/or animals living together with some degree of permanence, so that large-size patterns in global plant cover can be observed. Biomes broadly correspond with climatic regions, although other environmental controls are sometimes important. Each biome has a characteristic set of plant and animal species as well as a characteristic overall physiognomy (for example a general appearance given by the plant shapes). The general plant characteristics give a characteristic visual signature to the vegetation of the biome.

Rutherford and Westfall (1994) map seven biomes in South Africa:

Grassland Biome
Savanna Biome
Succulent Karoo Biome
Nama Karoo Biome
Forest Biome
Fynbos Biome
Desert Biome
Thicket biome
The descriptions of the biomes on this site come directly from Low & Rebelo, except for the Desert biome, which is not included in their publication.

Map of Biomes (.jpg)

Savanna Biome
This Biome is an area of mixed grassland and trees, and is generally known as bushveld.

In the Northern Cape and Kalahari sections of this Biome, the most distinctive trees are the camel thorn (Acacia erioloba) and the camphor bush (Tarchonanthus camphoratus). In Limpopo, the portly baobab (Adansonia digitata) and the candelabra tree (Euphorbia ingens) dominate. The central bush-veld is home to species such as the knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens), bushwillow (Combretum spp.), monkey thorn (Acacia galpinii), mopani (Colophos-permum mopane) and wild fig (Ficus spp.) In the valley bushveld of the south, euphorbias and spekboom trees (Portulacaria afra) dominate.

An abundance of wild fruit trees provide food for many birds and animals in the Savanna Biome.

Grey loeries, hornbills, shrikes, flycatchers and rollers are birds typical of the northern regions. The subtropical and coastal areas are home to Knysna loeries, purple-crested loeries and green pigeons. Raptors occur throughout the Biome.

The larger mammals include lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, buffalo, zebra, rhinoceros, giraffe, kudu, oryx, waterbuck, hippopotamus and many others.

About 8,5% of the Biome is protected. The Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park (GSLWP) and other reserves are located in the Savanna Biome.

Nama-Karoo Biome
This Biome includes the Namaland area of Namibia, and the Karoo area of South Africa.

Because of low rainfall, rivers are non-perennial. Cold and frost in winter and high temperatures in summer demand special adaptations from plants. The vegetation of this Biome is mainly low shrubland and grass, with trees limited to water courses. The bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, ostrich, suricate and ground squirrel are typical of the area.

Only 1% of the Nama-Karoo Biome falls within officially protected areas, of which the Karoo and Augrabies national parks are the largest.

Overgrazing and easily eroded soil surfaces are causing this semi-desert to creep slowly in on the neighbouring Savanna and Grassland biomes.

Grassland Biome
This Biome is a summer-rainfall area with heavy thunderstorms and hail, and frost in winter. A number of perennial rivers such as the Orange, Vaal, Pongola, Kei and Umzimvubu originate in, and flow through, the area. Trees are scarce and are found mainly on hills and along river beds. Karee (Rhus lancea), wild currant (Rhus pyroides), white stink-wood (Celtis africana) and several acacia species are the most common.

The Grassland Biome has the third-largest number of indigenous plant species in the country.

Eight mammal species endemic to South Africa occur in a wild state in this Biome. Three of these, namely the black wildebeest, blesbok and eland, do not occur outside the Grassland Biome.

The area is internationally recognised as an area of high species endemicity as far as birds are concerned. Birds commonly found in the area include the black korhaan, blue crane, guinea-fowl and other grassland birds.

Only 1,1% of the Grassland Biome is officially protected. The wilderness areas of the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg are the most significant.

Succulent Karoo Biome
One of the natural wonders of South Africa is the annual blossoming of the Namaqualand wild flowers (mainly of the family Asteraceae), which transforms the semi-desert of the Northern Cape into a fairyland. After rain, the drab landscape is suddenly covered from horizon to horizon with a multicoloured carpet (from August to October, depending on the rainfall).

This is a winter-rainfall area with extremely dry and hot summers. Succulents with thick, fleshy leaves are plentiful. Most trees have white trunks to reflect the heat.

The quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) and the human-like elephant's trunk (Pachypodium namaquanum) are prominent in the Richtersveld. Grass is scarce.

The animal life is similar to that of neighbouring biomes (Fynbos and Nama-Karoo).

The Richtersveld, Tankwa Karoo and Namaqua national parks have improved the conservation status of this Biome considerably.

Fynbos Biome
The Fynbos Biome is one of the six accepted floral kingdoms of the world. This region covers only 0,04% of the land surface of the globe.

Fynbos is found mainly in the Western Cape. It is a winter-rainfall area, and the fynbos vegetation is similar to that of mediterranean regions.

Fynbos is the name given to a group of evergreen plants with small, hard leaves (such as those in the Erica family). It is made up mainly of three groups of plants, namely the protea, heathers and restio, and incorporates a diversity of plant species (more than 8 500 kinds, over 6 000 of which are endemic).

The Fynbos Biome is home to the protea, for which South Africa is renowned. The Biome also contains flowering plants, now regarded as garden plants, such as freesia, tritonia, sparaxis and many others.

Protected areas cover 13,6% of the Fynbos Biome and include the Table Mountain and Agulhas national parks.

This Biome is not very rich in bird and mammal life, but does include the grysbok, the geometric to rtoise, the Cape sugar-bird and the protea seed-eater, which are endemic to the area. The mountains are the habitat of the leopard, baboon, honey-badger, caracal, rhebuck and several types of eagle.

[ Top ]

Forest Biome
South Africa has few forests. The only forests of significance are the Knysna and Tsitsikamma forests in the Western and Eastern Cape, respectively.

Other reasonably large forest patches that are officially protected are in the high-rainfall areas of the eastern escarpment, and on the eastern seaboard. Forest giants such as yellowwood (Podocarpus spp.), ironwood (Olea capensis) and lemonwood (Xymalos monospora) dominate.

The indigenous forests are a magical world of ferns, lichens, and colourful forest birds such as the Knysna loerie, the endangered Cape parrot and the rameron pigeon. Animals include the endangered samango monkey, bushpig, bushbuck and the delicate blue duiker.

[ Top ]

Thicket Biome
Subtropical thicket ranges from closed shrubland to low forest, dominated by evergreen succulent trees, shrubs and vines.

It is often impenetrable and has little herbaceous cover. Roughly 20% of the species in the Thicket Biome are endemic to the Biome.

[ Top ]

Desert Biome
True desert is found under very harsh environmental conditions which are even more extreme than those found in the Succulent Karoo and the Nama-Karoo biomes. The climate is characterised by summer rainfall, but also by high levels of summer aridity. Rainfall is highly variable from year to year. Desert is found mostly in Namibia, although it does occur in South Africa in the lower Orange River Valley.

The vegetation of the Desert Biome is characterised by the dominance of annual plants (often annual grasses). This means that after a rare season of abundant rain, the desert plains can be covered with a sea of short annual grass, whereas in drier years, the plains appear bare with the annual plants persisting in the form of seeds.

Perennial plants are usually encountered in specialised habitats associated with local concentrations of water. Common examples of such habitats are broad drainage lines or washes. Nearer to the coast, the role of coastal fog also governs the distribution of certain species commonly associated with the desert.

The Desert Biome includes an abundant insect fauna which includes many tenebrionid beetles, some of which can utilise fog water. There are also various vertebrates including reptiles, springbok, ostrich, gemsbok, snakes and geckos.

Some areas in the Desert Biome are formally protected in the Richtersveld National Park.

 
 
Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region.

The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today, thanks to an ambitious project launched by an African entrepreneur, that concept has become a reality. Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region.

The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today, thanks to an ambitious project launched by an African entrepreneur, that concept has become a reality. Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region. Embassies

The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today, thanks to an ambitious project launched by an African entrepreneur, that concept has become a reality. Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region.

The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today, thanks to an ambitious project launched by an African entrepreneur, that concept has become a reality.

Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region. The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today.

The idea of lions roaming South Africa would have had you laughed out of the bar a few years back but today, thanks to an ambitious project launched by an African entrepreneur, that concept has become a reality. Biomes is in just its fourth year but already the idea of a reserve so close to a city has caused great excitement with the prospect of another jewel in the crown of this already incredibly diverse region.

 

Google 
Web Search Eco Travel Africa
 
South Africa has many top Game / Nature Reserves, and is home to many of the mammals of southern Africa. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to South Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in South Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
 
 
 
South Africa Wildlife - Fauna & Flora
Amphibians Ecology
Birds Trees
Fishes Shrubs
Mammals Grasses
Reptiles : Snakes Herbaceous Plants
Invertebrates Fungi : Mushrooms
Copyright Information: The travel information, images and, landscape, safari lodge and wildlife photographs on this South Africa Biomes page are the © of Eco Travel Africa and the Travel Writers / Photographers. Royalty Free Images and Photos of African wildlife, including South Africa's Biomes are available on this website.