The Fynbos Biome is considered by many to be synonymous with the
Cape Floristic Region or Cape Floral Kingdom. However, the "biome"
refers only to the two key vegetation groups (Fynbos and Renosterveld)
within the region, whereas both the "region" and the "kingdom" refer
to the general geographical area and include other vegetation types
in the Forest, Nama Karoo, Succulent Karoo and Thicket Biomes, but
exclude peripheral outliers of the Fynbos Biome such as the Kamiesberg,
North-western and Escarpment Mountain Renosterveld (59,60) and Grassy
Fynbos (65) east of Port Elizabeth. However, the contribution of
Fynbos vegetation to the species richness, endemicity and fame of
the region is so overwhelming, that the Cape Floristic Region and
Cape Floral Kingdom can be considered to be "essentially Fynbos."
The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the six Floral Kingdoms
in the world, and is the only one contained in its entirety within
a single country. It is characterized by its high richness in plant
species (8 700 species) and its high endemicity (68% of plant species
are confined to the Cape Floral Kingdom). The Cape Floral Kingdom
thus compares with some of the richest floras worldwide, surpassing
many tropical forest regions in its floral diversity.
In South Africa, over one third of all plant species occur in the
Cape Floral Kingdom, even though the Kingdom occupies less than
6% of the area of the country. This is not primarily due to the
large number of vegetation types in the Cape Floral Kingdom. Over
7 000 of the plant species occur in only five Fynbos vegetation
types, with perhaps an additional 1 000 species in the three Renosterveld
vegetation types. The contribution of Succulent and Nama Karoo,
Thicket and Forest vegetation types in the region to the plant species
diversity is thus relatively small. Thus, although the Cape Floral
Kingdom contains five biomes, only the Fynbos Biome, comprising
the Fynbos and Renosterveld vegetation groups, contains most of
the floral diversity. Furthermore, the Cape Floral Kingdom traditionally
does not include the Fynbos and Renosterveld vegetation outliers
to the north and east. Including these would mean that endemicity
would approach 80%, the highest level of endemicity on any subcontinent.
Distressingly, some three-quarters of all plants in the South African
Red Data Book occur in the Cape Floral Kingdom: 1 700 plant species
are threatened to some extent with extinction! This is much more
than one would expect based on either the area of the Kingdom (6%)
or its plant numbers (36%). This again reflects the unique nature
of Fynbos vegetation: many Fynbos species are extremely localized
in their distribution, with sets of such localized species organized
into "centres of endemism." The city of Cape Town sits squarely
on two such centres of endemism and several hundred species are
threatened by urban expansion. However, a more serious threat is
alien plants, which infest large tracts of otherwise undisturbed
mountains and flats: their impact on these extremely localized species
is severe. Aliens are thus the major threat to Fynbos vegetation
and its plant diversity, especially in the mountains. On the lowlands
and on the less steep slopes the major threat is agriculture - new
technologies, fertilisers and crops are steadily eating into our
floral reserves. Another important threat is the misuse of fire.
Fynbos must burn, but fires in the wrong season (such as in spring,
instead of late summer) or too frequently (so that plants do not
have time to set seed) eliminate species. Several factors influence
fire dynamics in Fynbos - global warming, grazing practices and
fire management (ignition events, size of burns), but their relative
importance and interactions are poorly understood.
The two major vegetation groupings in Fynbos are quite distinct
and have contrasting ecological systems. Essentially, Renosterveld
used to contain the large animals in the Cape Floristic Kingdom,
but these are now extinct or else have been reintroduced into conservation
areas. By contrast, Fynbos is much richer in plant species, but
has such poor soils that it cannot support even low densities of
big game. However, most of the endemic amphibian, bird and mammal
species in the region, occur in Fynbos vegetation types. Key references:
Bond & Goldblatt (1984), Hall & Veldhuis (1985), Cowling (1992),
Rebelo (1994), Cowling & Richardson (1995).
is characterized by the dominance of members of the Daisy Family
(Asteraceae), specifically one species - Renosterbos Elytropappus
rhinocerotis, from which the vegetation type gets its name.
Although Renosterbos is the characteristic dominant, many other
plants are also prominent - for instance in the Daisy Family (Asteraceae):
Eriocephalus, Felicia, Helichrysum, Pteronia, Relhania; Pea
Family (Fabaceae): Aspalathus; Gardenia Family (Rubiaceae):
Anthospermum; Cocoa Family (Sterculiaceae): Hermannia;
Thyme Family (Thymelaeaceae): Passerina. All these shrubs
are characterized by their small, tough, grey leaves.
Grasses are also abundant. In fact, it is alleged that the high
shrub cover is a result of continuous grazing. Early records suggest
that the Renosterveld had abundant grasses, and that the game and
Khoi cattle migrated over the region. With the establishment of
European stock farmers, continuous grazing and the elimination of
the diverse grazing-browsing fauna, the shrubby element was promoted.
This theory is not universally accepted, but proponents argue to
the sudden decline of hay near Cape Town in the early 1700s, and
the many historical records of early explorers claiming that Renosterbos
was taking over and that grass was becoming scarce.
Another feature of Renosterveld is the high species richness of
geophytic plants (chiefly in the Iris Family (lridaceae) and Lily
Family (Liliaceae), but also in the Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)).
Proteas, Ericas and Restios - typical of Fynbos - tend to be absent
in Renosterveld, or are present at very low abundances. There are
few endemics to Renosterveld vegetation alone, many of the species
occurring in Fynbos as well. However, species endemic to the Cape
Floral Kingdom comprise about one-third of Renosterveld plant species,
and many of these belong to families which are not considered to
be of "Cape affinity" (i.e. these families are also diverse outside
the Cape Floral Kingdom).
Typically, Renosterveld is largely confined to fine-grained soils
- mainly clays and silts - which are derived from the shales of
the Maimesbury and Bokkeveld Groups and the Karoo Sequence. In drier
regions it also occurs on Cape Granite Suite-derived soils. Because
all these soils are fertile, much of Renosterveld has been ploughed
Renosterveld tends to occur where rainfall is between 250 (rarely
to 200 mm) to 600 mm per year and at least 30% falls in winter.
Where the rainfall is higher, the soils become leached and Renosterveld
is replaced by Asteraceous Fynbos. Generally, where the rainfall
is less than 250 mm it is replaced by one of the Succulent Karoo
Because of its high soil fertility, it is probable that all the
herds of large game in the Fynbos Biome occurred in Renosterveld.
Thus Mountain Zebra, Quagga, Bluebuck, Red Hartebeest, Eland, Bontebok,
Elephant, Black Rhino and Buffalo were common, as were Lion, Cheetah,
Wild Dog, Spotted Hyena and Leopard. Two of these only ever occurred
within the Fynbos Biome: Bluebuck and Bontebok. Of these large mammals,
only the Mountain Zebra and Leopard survived (by fleeing to the
mountains), with the Bontebok just surviving near Bredasdorp. All
the other species became extinct in the Fynbos Biome (one elephant
survives in the Forest Biome within the Fynbos Biome area), although
many have been introduced into conservation areas from outside the
region. The Quagga and Bluebuck are extinct.
This high fertility has meant that most of the area has been converted
to agriculture. Less than 5% of West Coast Renosterveld remains
(the Rio Convention has as its goal the preservation of 10%!), with
other Renosterveld types also heavily ploughed or used as augmented
pasture. It seems unlikely that viable populations of large mammals
will ever be reintroduced into the Fynbos Biome for this reason.
The conservation status of this region has been the focus of several
symposia and workshops.
images to enlarge
on Fairfield Farm, Napier, Western Cape.
flowers in Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
(Elytropappus rhinocerotis) in the foreground, near Pakhuis
Pass, W. Cape.
various Fynbos vegetation types comprise most of the area of the
Fynbos Biome. Fynbos is characterized by the presence of the following
1. A restioid component, belonging to the
Restionaceae or the Cape Reed Family. Some definitions require
a mere 5% cover of restiods in an area to classify it as a Fynbos
vegetation type. The Restionaceae have been described as shrubby
grasses, and replace grasses on nutrient-poor soils where there
is a strong winter component to the annual rainfall. Sedges and
many grasses within Fynbos also share the "restioid" characters
of reduced or absent leaves and tough, wiry stems.
2. An ericoid or heath component. By far
the majority of plant species - and the greatest cover after restioids
comprise plants with small, narrow, rolled leaves with thick-walled
cells on the upper leaf surface and a channel containing hairs
on the lower surface. Although the Heaths (Ericaceae) feature
prominently, the Daisy (Asteraceae), Blacktip (Bruniaceae), Pea
(Fabaceae), Jujube (Rhamnaceae) and Thyme (Thymelaeaceae) Families
also have structurally similar leaves. Many of these plants are
wispy and insubstantial, although some form quite dense bushes.
3. A proteoid component. These plants, almost
exclusively of the Proteaceae, have broad, isobilateral (both
surfaces similar) leaves. They are the dominant overstorey in
Fynbos. Although some members occur in ecotones and some occur
in Renosterveld, by far the majority are confined to Fynbos.
Fynbos is characterized by the presence of seven
endemic or near-endemic plant families: Blacktips (Bruniaceae),
Guyalone (Geissolomaceae), Sillyberry (Grubbiaceae), Brickleaf
(Penaeaceae), Buttbush (Retziaceae), Dewstick (Roridulaceae) and
Candlestick (Stilbaceae). Only the Bruniaceae (75 spp.), Penaeaceae
(21 spp.) and Stilbaceae (13 spp.) comprise more than five species.
The fifteen largest families comprise 70% of the species in the
largest families in fynbos
Over 7 000 plant species occur in the Fynbos vegetation types.
Endemicity is very high - over 80% of plant species are confined
to the Cape Floral Kingdom and Fynbos Biome. The majority of these,
although exact numbers are unknown, are confined to one or more
of the various Fynbos vegetation types.
Many species have very narrow distributional ranges. Thus, based
on the Proteaceae for which we have the most finely detailed data,
some 24 centres of endemism (areas with species sharing similar
localized distributional ranges) have been identified.
Whereas there is near unanimity as to the definition of Fynbos
as a unit, there are widely divergent opinions on the major vegetation
types within Fynbos. This stems from the high species richness and
the large number of localized species, which prevents an easy comparison
of species lists between centres of endemism. Consequently, the
definition of vegetation types based on species composition, the
basis for determining types in the other biomes, has never been
achieved in Fynbos.
A structural approach, suggested by Campbell in 1985, recognises
Proteoid, Ericaceous, Restioid, Asteraceous, Shrubby and Grassy
vegetation types. This approach denies a difference in Fynbos types
between the mountains and the lowlands of the Biome. However, the
different types occur on a scale too fine to map here Ericaceous
on the wet, upper south slopes, Asteraceous on the drier northern
slopes and the wetter, shale-derived soils, Restioid on the winter
water-logged and summer and slopes, and Proteoid on the richer colluvial,
sandstone-derived soils. Shrubby Fynbos is ecotonal to forest where
rock outcrops, gorges and stream courses protect the vegetation
from fires, and Grassy Fynbos predominates where the summer component
of the rainfall allows grasses to outcompete the restioids. These
basic components are further subdivided into over 60 types based
on structural adaptations.
An older classification by Moll & Bossi in 1983, recognized three
main types of Fynbos. These are Mountain, Grassy and Lowland Fynbos.
The Grassy type corresponds to that of Campbell. However, the Mountain
and Lowland dichotomy has never been defined or defended. It has
been criticised as merely one of cartographic convenience. Mountain
Fynbos was classified into Dry, Mesic and Wet Fynbos, with a fourth
type - Arid (for the northern Cederberg and Swartberg) - perhaps
required. Grassy Fynbos was categorized as either Mesic (on southern
slopes and nearer the coast) or Dry (northern slopes and predominantly
inland). Lowland Fynbos was subdivided into three main types based
on their edaphic (soil) requirements. Of the three, only the subdivisions
of the Lowland Fynbos types correspond to mapable patterns of endemism
and are adopted here (the other units were recognized on LANDSAT
satellite imagery, but do not correspond to structural vegetation
Fynbos vegetation types occur predominantly on well-leached, infertile
soils. The Cape Supergroup sandstones typically produce such soils,
but under high rainfall conditions, granites and even shales become
sufficiently leached to support Asteraceous Fynbos, replacing Renosterveld.
This usually occurs at about 600 to 800 mm annual rainfall, but
may be much less on granites, especially at higher altitudes. Below
200 mm Fynbos is replaced by Succulent Karoo, presumably because
at such low rainfall, the vegetation does not burn frequently enough.
Fynbos has a low animal biomass, although species richness of birds,
mammals, frogs, reptiles and insects is quite high, and most Fynbos
Biome endemics occur in Fynbos vegetation types. Although these
animals play a major role in pollination and seed dispersal, they
appear to play a minor part in influencing vegetation structure
and composition. This is partly due to the high carbon to nitrogen
ratio, which effectively excludes browsing of all but the youngest
Fire is a major influence on Fynbos community processes. Fynbos
must burn at between 6 and 45 years of age in order to sustain its
plant species. Many species store their fruit in fire-safe cones
for release after a fire, and ants are enticed to bury fruit where
they are safe from rodents and fire. After fire many plant species
resprout, but the majority rely on the predictability of fires and
only regenerate after the fire from seeds. Without fire, Fynbos
becomes senescent and Forest and Thicket elements begin invading.
Because of the low productivity of Fynbos vegetation types, due
to the infertile soils, they are little utilized for agriculture.
The major use of Fynbos is for recreation, water catchment and exotic
plantations. In some areas vegetation harvesting for the cut-flower
trade occurs, and wild flower orchards are being established in
Fynbos areas. The implications of these for hybridization and gene
transfer are-poorly understood and are of conservation significance
- we need to conserve the genetic material for future cultivar selections
rather than lose wild genetic reserves by careless orchard placement.
On richer soils where the rainfall is high, Fynbos has been converted
to fruit orchards and vineyards. With more modern agricultural techniques
(liquid fertilisation, terracing, hydroponics) much marginal land
is becoming suitable for agriculture. At present dam building -
both for agricultural and urban use - is a threat, albeit a minor
one, compared with alien encroachment, urbanization and fires.
image to enlarge
Fynbos (Lowland fynbos) Elim, southern Cape.
fynbos dominated by Protea laurifolia, Leucadendron saligna
and Restionaceae on the slopes of Keereomsberg, Western Cape.
Plain fynbos near Wellington, Western Cape. The brown Cape reeds
(Restionaceae) dominate the fynbos while the geelbos or common
sunshine conebush (Leucadendron salignum, a fire resprouter)
is the dominant shrub. In the background is the greatest threat
to fynbos vegetation - alien invaders, in this case pines, although
some Australian hakea or needlebush plants can be seen invading
the foreground. The veld is about 5 or 6 years old, the dead
bushes being members of the pea family (Aspalathus species)
which have already set seed and died, some skeletons of plants
from the previous fire cycle, and chopped out Hakea sericea.
The soil is deep aeolian sand over granite or shale. Riverine
habitat can be seen in the background. The fynbos on the mountains
in the background will be similar in appearance, but much richer
in species and with more ericoid shrubs.
(Proteaceae), Bosmansbos, Western Cape.
fynbos dominated by Protea eximia, Keeromsberg, Western
sp. amongst restios on the east-facing slopes of Keeromsberg,
Text on this page from reference below, images
by NBI staff members