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Identifying spatial components of ecological and evolutionary processes for regional conservation planning in the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa

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Conservation seeks ultimately to protect and maintain biodiversity indefinitely. Most biodiversity features targeted in past conservation planning have been largely aspects of ecological and biogeographical pattern rather than process. However, the persistence of biodiversity can only be ensured through consideration of the ecological and evolutionary processes that underpin biodiversity, as well as its present spatial pattern. This paper identifies spatial surrogates of ecological and evolutionary processes for regional conservation planning in one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, the Cape Floristic Region. We identified six types of spatial components (namely edaphic interfaces, upland–lowland interfaces, sand movement corridors, riverine corridors, upland–lowland gradients and macroclimatic gradients) as surrogates for key processes such as ecological and geographical diversification, and species migration. Spatial components were identified in a GIS using published data and expert knowledge. Options for achieving targets for process components have been seriously compromised by habitat transformation. Between 30 and 75% of the original extent of the spatial components currently remain functional. Options for achieving upland–lowland and macroclimatic gradients are very limited in the lowlands where most of the habitat has been transformed by agriculture. We recommend that future studies place their research on ecological and evolutionary processes in a spatially explicit framework. Areas maintaining adaptive diversification (e.g. environmental gradients, ecotones) or containing historically isolated populations should be identified and protected. The spatial dimensions of eco-logical processes such as drought and fire refugia also need to be determined and such insights incorporated in conservation planning. Finally, connectivity within these areas should be ensured to maintain species migration and gene flow.

Keywords: Biodiversity hotspot; biodiversity; conservation; fynbos; karoo; plant and animal diversification; species persistence

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute for Plant Conservation, Botany Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa, 2: Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit and Southern African Hotspots Programme: Conservation International, Botany Department, University of Port Elizabeth, PO Box 1600, Port Elizabeth 6000, South Africa and 3: New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Services, PO Box 402, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia

Publication date: 2003-05-01

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