A day spent with the team from the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) led to an exciting find: a Critically Endangered Erica species that had never before been seen on the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).

This was one of seven fynbos species that had the CREW ecologists eager to get to know our area a little better.

The Agulhas Plain, including the NWSMA is home to fynbos habitat such as the Critically Endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos and Overberg Sandstone Fynbos. Here you’ll find more than 1850 plant species – most in the Fynbos Biome.

A recent Kew Gardens report, looking at the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi, found that two in five plant species globally are estimated to be threatened with extinction. In 2018, their research showed one in five species faced the same fate. Their report suggests that globally, agriculture and aquaculture are the biggest threats to plant species. Invasive plants and climate change are also threats.

 

That’s why every new species found in our area is a reason to celebrate. Here are the special species that the CREW team and NWSMA landowners tracked down together. 

 

1. Erica gracilipes

(Critically Endangered)

This Erica species was known only from 3 severely fragmented subpopulations, all threatened by invasive plants, according to the SANBI Red List. They’ve also been threatened by harvesting and by habitat removal for cultivation. In the NWSMA, the CREW team found the Erica in an area relatively clear of invasive plants. 

2. Leucadendron elimense subsp elimense (Endangered): 

This species is special to the NWSMA, named after member town, Elim. It only occurs around the town of Elim. Over the past 60 years, habitat loss (removed for cultivation) has reduced its population by 50%.  Some subpopulations have also been negatively affected by drought in recent years.

3. Erica regia subsp regia (Endangered):

The CREW team tells us that this Erica species occurs only in small, severely fragmented subpopulations. And numbers continue to decline, due to urban development, agriculture and invasvie alien plants. You’ll see these plants flower throughout much of the NWSMA between August and October, where they continue to be protected.

4. Paranomus abrotanifolius (Vulnerable)

This shrublet had our CREW ecologists pretty excited during the trip. The worry is that habitat loss, agriculture and invasive plants have caused population reductions of nearly 40%. And CREW notes that this is likely to get worse: climate change and land transformation models predict losses of up to 80% for this species. It’s fairly widespread throughout our NWSMA, many in areas that have been cleared of invasive species.

5. Lobostemon sanguineus (Vulnerable)

This species is known from 4 sites, says the SANBI Red List. This includes the NWSMA, where some subpopulations have been flourishing. It’s threatened by agriculture and invasive alien plants.

6. Leucadendron platyspermum (Vulnerable)

Harvesting over past decades led to the Vulnerable listing of this Proteaceae. It’s used in the cut flower industry, and its future depends on market preferences dictated by retailers. Broadcast sowing is a threat to this species, because foreign genetic material is introduced into populations, leading to hybridization and genetic contamination, says the SANBI Red List.

7. Serruria fasciflora (Near Threatened)

This Common Pin Spiderhead (in the Proteaceae family) is thought to have experienced population declines of 30% over the past 60 years. And SANBI reckons a further 30% could disappear by 2025.

While there’s no shortage of bad news regarding fynbos threats, there’s some good news too. Where private landowners take action to protect their natural heritage, species populations such as these can potentially avoid some of these devastating trends.

Here’s what we’ve done in the NWSMA:

 

  • We’re working to connect our conservation areas, to allow game and vegetation to move within these corridors.
  • Thousands of hectares are cleared annually of invasive alien trees. Yes, there’s more to be done, but working with partners like Flower Valley Conservation Trust, the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative, WWF South Africa, the Overberg District Municipality and LandCare, as well as our own landowner members, we can help to slowly remove this threat from many of our landscapes.
  • Our conservation team, working with partners such as CREW, can document and monitor our landscapes, and better understand where critical biodiversity action is needed.

Image credit: LoveGreen Communications.