Thursday, June 12, 2008

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South Africa
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The Cape Floristic Region is a Mediterranean-type ecosystem unique to the southwest tip of Africa. It has the greatest concentration of plant species in the world outside of tropical ecosystems, with 6 210 of its 9 000 species occurring nowhere else in the world. Although the region is relatively small, its plant biodiversity is the richest per unit area on Earth, prompting its designation as a biodiversity hotspot.

The characteristic and most widespread type of vegetation in the Cape Floristic Region is fynbos, an Afrikaans word that translates as "fine bush." Covering some 46 000 square kilometres, fynbos is a shrubland comprising hard-leafed, evergreen, fire-adapted shrubs. Fynbos covers half of the surface area and accounts for 80 per cent of the plant varieties of the Cape Floristic Region.

The 1978 image shows large, relatively intact areas of native fynbos vegetation. Over subsequent decades, however, large tracts of fynbos have been cleared for agriculture or lost to urban expansion around Cape Town. The 2007 image shows how roads, urban development, and agriculture have overtaken much of the area.

Fynbos areas are also threatened by invasive alien species, particularly wattle and acacia species from Australia, as well as pine plantations. Many fynbos species have gone extinct, and more than 1 000 are endangered. Their conservation is a priority, and reserves have been established in many areas.
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