07 November 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Biodiversity superstar

South Africa is said to be the 3rd-most biodiverse country in the world after rainforest-rich Brazil and Indonesia. That’s why it’s part of the very exclusive ‘Megadiversity Club’.

Strelitzias, indigenous to South Africa, are now planted in gardens around the world. Photo Chris Marais

Of the 195-odd countries in the world, there are 17 that are fall under the intriguing label ‘megadiverse’. These 17 countries cover only 10% of the Earth’s surface area, but they contain nearly 70% of the planet’s natural wealth and wonder, measured by sheer number of species.

In alphabetical order, according to Wikipedia, the 17 are: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, the United States and Venezuela.

The 17 countries were identified back in 1998 by Conservation International. They called these countries ‘biodiversity superstars’, and pointed out that the 'Megadiverse 17' were just as important as the G7.

South Africa covers only 2% of the world’s land surface, yet in it are found 7.5% of the planet’s plant species, 5.8% of its mammals and 8% of its birds.

In 2002, an official organisation was created, called the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries.

Recently, at the 12th meeting of the signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, South Africa was voted in as chair of the group for the next 2 years.

It’s a good enough reason to reflect on the country’s true natural wealth.

South Africa covers only 2% of the world’s land surface, yet in it are found 7.5% of the planet’s plant species, 5.8% of its mammals, 8% of its birds, 4.6% of its reptiles and 5.5% of its insects. It is the sheer variety of habitats, in fact, that spur this biodiversity.

The country’s topography ranges from sea-level to high mountains; climatic conditions vary from true desert to moist humid subtropical forests.

There are 4 biomes that are found nowhere else – fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and subtropical thicket. Within the 1st and last of these, the species density often outperforms the Brazilian rainforests, in themselves the benchmark of high biodiversity.

The fact that 2 massive ocean systems meet here creates innumerable sea habitats, with the result that South Africa has about 16% of the world’s marine fish species.

And, of course, with 800-plus bird species and more than 100 Important Bird Areas, there are few better places on Earth for twitchers.

Category: Attractions

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