Rates and patterns of habitat loss across South Africa’s vegetation biomes

Authors

  • Andrew L. Skowno 1.Kirstenbosch Research Centre, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Cape Town, South Africa; 2.Plant Conservation Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2726-7886
  • Debbie Jewitt 1.Biodiversity Research and Assessment, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; 2.School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0964-692X
  • Jasper A. Slingsby 1.Fynbos Node, South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, Cape Town, South Africa; 2.Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1246-1181

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/8182

Keywords:

land-cover change, monitoring, biodiversity, ecosystem, indicator

Abstract

The loss of natural habitat resulting from human activities is the principal driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems globally. Metrics of habitat loss are monitored at national and global scales using various remote sensing based land-cover change products. The metrics go on to inform reporting processes, biodiversity assessments, land-use decision-making and strategic planning in the environmental and conservation sector. We present key metrics of habitat loss across South Africa at national and biome levels for the first time. We discuss the spatial patterns and trends, and the implications and limitations of the metrics. Approximately 22% of the natural habitat of South Africa has been lost since the arrival of European settlers. The extent and the rate of habitat loss are not uniform across South Africa. The relatively mesic Grassland, Fynbos and Indian Ocean Coastal Belt biomes have lost the most habitat, while the arid Nama-Karoo, Succulent Karoo and Desert have lost the least. Rates of loss increased across all biomes in recent years (2014–2018), indicating that the historical drivers of change (i.e. expansion of croplands, human settlements, plantation forestry and mining) are intensifying overall. We should caution that the losses we report are conservative, because the land-cover change products do not capture degradation within natural ecosystems. Preventing widespread biodiversity losses and securing the benefits we derive from biodiversity requires slowing and preventing further habitat degradation and loss by using existing land-use planning and regulatory tools to their full potential.

Significance:

  • The loss of natural habitat resulting from human activities is the principal driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems in South Africa.
  • Monitoring trends and patterns of habitat loss at a national scale provides a basis for informed environmental decision-making and planning, thus equipping civil society and government to address habitat loss and protect biodiversity while also meeting key development and socio-economic needs.

Open data set:

https://doi.org/10.15493/SAEON.FYNBOS.10000011

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Additional Files

Published

2021-01-29

How to Cite

1.
Skowno AL, Jewitt D, Slingsby JA. Rates and patterns of habitat loss across South Africa’s vegetation biomes. S. Afr. J. Sci. [Internet]. 2021 Jan. 29 [cited 2021 Dec. 2];117(1/2). Available from: https://sajs.co.za/article/view/8182

Issue

Section

Research Letter

Funding data