Experts race to save fynbos

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The Western Cape has rich biodiversity. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
The Western Cape has rich biodiversity. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
 Cape Town - Fynbos remains threatened and efforts are under way to expand the knowledge of the biome which is unique in the world.

"There are very special vegetation containing large numbers of threatened species and it is quite a challenge trying to conserve all of these tiny bits of land that are scattered all over," CapeNature scientific manager Dr Andrew Turner told News24.

He said that fynbos is particularly threatened by unchecked development in sensitive areas.

"There are definitely various parts of fynbos that are still threatened: There are 163 different fynbos vegetation types and many of these are threatened and particularly it's the vegetation types that occur in the low lying areas - the flat areas that are more suitable for agriculture and other types of human activities that have been transformed in the past and we're now left with little bits here and there."

More detailed techniques have yielded a better understanding of fynbos species, particularly as the environment has caused enough differentiation so that plants and animals have evolved into new and specialised species.

Genetics

"Our level of knowledge on fynbos is reasonably good, but it's not complete.

"Over the last decade or so there have techniques that people have used to distinguish one species from another and that has led to a constant level of description of new species," Turner said on the sidelines of the 2012 Biodiversity Review in Cape Town, which ends on Friday.

In particular, the conference seeks to address the state of biodiversity, as well as threats posed by invasive alien species.

One of the methodologies that has created a better understanding of fynbos has been the use of genetics technologies.

"The approaches that we used in the past continue to be used, but they're now augmented by genetic approaches. Genetics has provided a much more robust and rich data set which we can use to inform our understanding how things have evolved and changed," Turner said.

He argued that information about sensitive areas for biodiversity should be included in detailed land use planning so that development did not have a negative impact on endangered species.

"What we try and do is to incorporate this information about where the remaining biodiversity is into conservation planning so that when people are putting up new developments; plough new land, they do it in areas where it's not going to affect the continued survival of these species."


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