Stretching along the Atlantic coast of Africa, from southwestern South Africa into southern Namibia, the Succulent Karoo’s botanical diversity is unparalleled by any other arid region on earth and is recognized as the only arid biodiversity hotspot. This hotspot has an extensive variety of habitats and microclimates including rugged mountains, semi-arid shrublands and coastal dunes. It boasts the world’s richest variety of succulent flora as well as high diversity of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and some mammals. This critically endangered habitat encompasses some 39,700 square miles.
ECOLOGY OF THE SUCCULENT KAROO
The Succulent Karoo has an exceptionally unique and diverse variety of plants, especially of succulents and bulbs. In fact, the most succulent vegetation on Earth is found in teh Succulent Karoo. It is home to more than 6,350 species of plants, 900 of which are threatened with extinction, and 40% are endemic (or found no where else on the planet). The display of blooming spring annuals is world-renown.
The climate of the Succulent Karoo makes it different from all other deserts in the world. The area experiences large climatic variability with coastal fogs, dry zones due to rainshadow effects, and predictable and reliable spring, summer, and most often, winter rainfalls. Prolonged drought in the region is rare. These factors contribute to the large numbers of endemics and high species richness (number of different species).
The high number of endemic vertebrates is thought to drive the evolution and thus species richness of flowering plants in the region.
The Succulent Karoo is sparsely populated which has eased the pressure on the region as compared to other hotspots. Large commercial farms or ranches operate across the region, which is scattered with Western-style towns. Many Namibians live and work on livestock ranches in the south.
In these pastoral areas, all members of the community have access to land for grazing and water. Conflict arises when wealthy individuals try to fence off land illegally. Houses are often made from traditional materials such as sticks, logs, earth and thatch. Men and boys generally care for livestock and maintain homesteads; women and girls do most of the agricultural labour, food preparation, childcare, and housework.
The major economic drivers in Namibia and the Karoo region are agriculture, mining and tourism.
Biodiversity in this hotspot is under pressure from a range of human impacts.
– The principal form of land use in the Karoo is pastoralism. Extensive traditional nomadic herding continues while both communally-owned land and commercial grazing are on the rise resulting in much of the habitat being severely degraded by overgrazing. While such land use can be compatible with the maintenance of natural resources, overgrazing has lead to desertification.
– Mining for diamonds and precious metals has stripped vegetation from large areas and resulted in excessive sand movement.
– Large tracts of land have been converted in the wetter areas for crop agriculture while increasingly community agriculture along perennial streams is also changing the landscape.
– Illegal and large scale collection of fauna and flora.
– Climate change is predicted to have a major negative influence on the biodiversity of the area given the specialized habitat requirements of the flora and fauna of the region.
The government of Namibia gives people living in communal areas the opportunity to manage their natural resources through the creation of communal conservancies. These conservancies along with governments, nonprofit organizations and other entities – have restored populations of lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, zebras and other native wildlife to the world’s richest dry land. Restoration tied to ecotourism has generated sustainable income for many communities.
World Wildlife Fund USA, Places, Namibia: http://www.worldwildlife.org/places/namibia
Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Succulent Karoo Hotspot Briefing Book: http://www.cepf.net/Documents/final.succulentkaroo.briefingbook.pdf
Our Africa: http://www.our-africa.org/namibia/food-daily-life