South Africa is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and has a rich and spectacular array of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems.
These resources underpin the livelihoods of the majority of South Africans and contribute significantly to the country’s economy. Nevertheless, South Africa’s biodiversity is increasingly threatened by human activities, which in turn threaten the very resource base upon which we depend. This theme attempts to synthesize information on the current state of our biodiversity, the impacts of human activities on this state and reviews existing responses to these impacts.
South Africa occupies only 2% of the world’s land surface, yet contains a disproportionately large share of global biodiversity, being home to nearly 10% of the planet’s plant species and 7% of the reptile, bird and mammal species.
The country contains three globally recognized biodiversity hotspots, namely the Cape Floristic Region, the Succulent Karoo, shared with Namibia, and the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot, shared with Mozambique and Swaziland. The Cape Floristic Region is the smallest (<90 000km2) and is the only floral kingdom to occur exclusively within the geographical boundaries of one country.
Its extraordinary plant diversity helps rank South Africa as the country with the fifth highest number of plant species in the world. Our seas, which support many livelihoods, include the Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans with a wide range of habitats from kelp forests to coral reefs. Additionally our coast is home to 15% of the world’s coastal species.