Retention and Restoration of the Biodiversity of the Little Karoo


The Little Karoo region, which falls within the Succulent Karoo Biome is an area of great biodiversity (Figure 1). One of the major threats facing this biodiversity is the lack of useful information on sound management practices within the natural vegetation of the region. This lack of information is largely due to the collapse of extension services which government agencies previously supplied. These services are no longer provided and landowners and – managers (especially at the municipal level) urgently require spatial information on the ecosystems they manage. This study aimed to develop four of these information products to ensure that the natural resources in the Little Karoo region are utilised in a sustainable manner.

These are:

  1. A map that indicates the extent of grazing capacity of the natural vegetation for the
    ostrich industry.
  2. Maps that indicate the extent of grazing capacity of the natural vegetation for the game
    industry for species appropriate to this area.
  3. A map that indicates urgent restoration needs and potential, especially in the lowland
    areas currently and previously targeted by agriculture.
  4. A map that provides a flammability index and fire regime requirements of the natural
    vegetation in the Little Karoo region.

These four products relate directly to management decisions that a new generation of
landowners and managers must take on a regular bases in the region, e.g;

  • Financial viability of sustainable farming with game or ostriches on natural vegetation. Here sound information is required on current carrying capacity of the affected land.
  • Best sites to establish vegetation restoration projects in the region, as job creation opportunities, carbon sequestration projects relating to global warming and/or prevention of flood damage.
  • Best configuration to develop fire protection associations, especially in relation to sites where fire prevention measures (e.g. fire breaks) must be established and maintained.

The purpose of this project was to develop this urgently required spatial data, thereby
capacitating land-use decision makers within the Little Karoo to take sound decisions on vital
aspects that affect the ecology, biodiversity and economy of the Little Karoo region. In order
to achieve this, the end products were developed in conjunction with stakeholders. This
approach was adopted in the hope that these partners and stakeholder groups would endorse
and take ownership of these end products and in turn distribute them to their stakeholders.

The main deliverables of this project were;

  1. Workshops with the relevant partners and stakeholders to collaboratively develop
    maps, decide on format and discuss dissemination approach.
  2. A map in electronic format (pdf and shapefiles for GIS systems) of the present grazing
    carrying capacity of the natural vegetation for ostriches.
  3. Maps in electronic format (pdf and shapefiles for GIS systems) indicating suitable
    habitat and the present carrying capacity of the natural vegetation for each of the
    herbivore game species that could be considered in the region (e.g. eland, kudu,
    mountain zebra, hartebeest, springbok, duiker, etc).
  4. A map in electronic format (pdf and shapefiles for GIS systems) that provides a
    flammability index and fire frequency regime of the natural vegetation in the region.
  5. Maps in electronic format (pdf and shapefiles for GIS systems) that indicate restoration
    needs and potential sites for projects in relation to urban areas, where there are high
    unemployment levels, for gannaveld and spekboom vegetation.
  6. One workshop / presentation at a GI forum to present products and to disseminate data
    to the stakeholders.
  7. Presentations on national radio and/or printed media to inform stakeholders of
  8. Deposition of all relevant data and materials on easily available websites (e.g. BGIS
    and Elsenburg database).

All the maps and underlying spatial data produced through this grant used the Little Karoo
Vegetation Map compiled by Vlok, J.H.J., Cowling, R.M. and Wolf, T. in 2005 as a basis.
This original work was done for the SKEP and Gouritz Initiative projects supported by CEPF
grant no. 1064410304. Additional data in the form of a detailed land cover and degradation
map of the Little Karoo (Thompson et al. 2008), also funded by the CEPF, were fundamental
to this study.
We used these to first map the distribution of threatened ecosystems in the Little Karoo. These
are vegetation types which are at risk of extinction due to the loss of natural vegetation. The
assessment of threatened ecosystems is based on the classification scheme developed by
IUCN to categorize species into, among other categories, critically endangered, endangered,
and vulnerable. This study, following the approach and guidelines developed by the South
African National Biodiversity Institute, classified vegetation types into ecosystem status
categories of critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable, based on the difference
between the conservation target and the extant habitat of each vegetation type. Vegetation
types with extant habitat >60% were classified as least threatened (LT) and were assumed to
have no significant disruption of ecosystem functioning and minimal species loss. As extant
habitat dropped to < 60%, some ecosystem functions become impaired and species start to
disappear. These vegetation types were classified as vulnerable (VU). If the amount of extant
habitat drops to less than the conservation target of the vegetation type, it was classified as
critically endangered (CR). Vegetation types with more than their conservation target extant,
but less than the conservation target plus 15% were classified as endangered (EN). This layer
of threatened ecosystems, together with the guidelines for threatened ecosystems, must be
used in interpreting all the subsequent products (Figure 2).

In this report we detail the development of each of these products, as well as their purpose,
communication and review.