6 reasons why climate change is the latest threat to fynbos

“Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy and habitable by all species” – Sir David Attenborough

The Cape Floral Kingdom is the most diverse and smallest floral kingdom in the world, yet one of the most threatened. Invasive alien vegetation, habitat removal and degradation are damaging the ecosystem that boasts more than 9000 plant species. Intact fynbos provides essential ecosystem services such as good water catchment systems and several economic uses such as fynbos for bouquets, honey, medicinal and edible plants.

Now a new threat has been knocking on the door of fynbos and its survival: climate change. 

Unfortunately for fynbos, due to human actions, the climate is changing too fast which is causing grave imbalances in nature. According to years of research done by The Western Cape Department of Agriculture and independent scientists for the SmartAgri Plan, temperatures will rise up to 3˚C by 2050 in the Province. This means less winter rainfall, longer dry-spells and destructive heat waves.

This is already evident from the 3 year drought experienced by the Cape, being one of the first cities to experience the true impacts of climate change. Such extreme weather is predicted to become more prevalent in future.

 

Here are 6 reasons that show why climate change is a real threat to fynbos:

1. AREA

Estimates of the potential impacts of climate change in the Cape Floristic Region show that the Fynbos biome could exhibit between 51% and 65% loss of area (Dept of Agriculture, Western Cape: SmartAgri).

2: SPECIES

Plant species richness is set to diminish due to warmer weather and drying, as well as changing fire regimes and invasive plants.

3: INDUSTRY

Fynbos species harvested for the wild will be pressured by climate changes, via smaller populations, habitat fragmentation and impacts on product quality (retailers have strict standards for harvested plant products). Already the very severe drought in the Western Cape is impacting on this economy.

4: LIVELIHOODS

Fynbos provides jobs and livelihoods to an estimated 20,000 people (Cape Flora SA). For many rural communities in the Western Cape, harvesting of wild flowers is the only economic activity available to sustain their families. Without fynbos to pick, these communities will suffer financially.

5: FIRE

Fynbos is dependent on fire to germinate, but then needs rainfalls for the seedlings to then develop. But with the weather patterns changing, and fynbos struggling to grow in some parts of the province, invasive aliens take over.

6: WATER EXTRACTION

With uncertain water supply in our dams, we are going to be more and more reliant on underground water. A number of the unique Cape Flora Families are dependent on our perennial aquifer fed streams. The impacts of this water extraction on our fynbos species is unknown to date, but ecologists are extremely concerned.

Some of these climate change threats are unavoidable, but others such as removal of alien invasive vegetation and sustainable solutions to water use can help mitigate the situation. In time of drought the City of Cape Town halved its water consumption, a feat not easily achieved, but showcases our ability to make large scale positive change together as a society.