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A rapid multi-disciplinary biodiversity assessment of the Kamdebooberge (Sneeuberg, Eastern Cape, South Africa): implications for conservation
© Clark et al.; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 6 August 2012
Accepted: 5 November 2012
Published: 6 December 2012
Botanical work since 2008 on the Sleeping Giant section of the Kamdebooberge (Sneeuberg mountain complex, Eastern Cape, South Africa) has indicated that these mountains may be of significant conservation value. Accordingly, a precursory, rapid multi-disciplinary biodiversity assessment was undertaken in January 2011, focusing on plants, tetrapod vertebrates and leafhoppers. The botanical results confirm the Kamdebooberge as being of high botanical conservation value, hosting three strict endemics, healthy populations of five other Sneeuberg endemics, and fynbos communities comprising species not found elsewhere in the Sneeuberg. The Kamdebooberge are important for herpetofauna (excluding serpentoids) and mammals, hosting several range-restricted and regional endemics. The expedition uncovered three new leafhopper species, together with several species previously only known from the Cape Floristic Region. Further detailed faunal work may provide further interesting results from these mountains, which show a high conservation value unique to the southern Escarpment.
Due to absence of any previous faunal research on the Kamdebooberge, and the potential for further important botanical findings, a multi-disciplinary team of ten biodiversity scientists visited the Kamdebooberge from 22–25 January 2011. The purpose was a precursory, rapid biodiversity survey of the southern section of the Kamdebooberge, focusing on the disciplinary skills of each scientist, and to obtain an indication of the conservation value and natural heritage of these mountains. Results indicated high levels of endemism in animals, with some links to adjoining biomes. For the flora, more records of endemics were established in a poorly explored region. This multidisciplinary approach serves as an example for future research in the poorly explored Great Escarpment.
The study area
Mean annual rainfall at the base of the Kamdebooberge (Farm Waterkloof) is ca. 400 mm, and on the south-east-facing slopes of the mountain is predicted to be at least 700–800 mm due to orographic effect as evidenced by the incipient forest and afromontane grassland and fynbos. Rainfall on the mountain is augmented by regular mist, and snowfalls occur most winters. Exceptional rains had fallen in the Kamdeboo Karoo since the middle of December 2010, breaking a severe two-year drought, and the weather during the expedition was a combination of heavy morning mist, heavy evening showers, and sunshine.
From four previous botanical trips to the area by VRC, several vegetation types can be defined as occurring on the Kamdebooberge, providing a variety of habitats for fauna and flora:
Drier thicket/closed woodland occupies the north-facing slopes and lower southern/south-eastern slopes. Typical species are Acacia karroo Hayne, Aloe ferox Mill., Buddleja glomerata H.L.Wendl., Carissa haematocarpa (Eckl.) A.DC., Diospyros lycioides Desf., Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia (L.f.) Benth, Ehretia rigida (Thunb.) Druce subsp. rigida, Euclea crispa (Thunb.) Gürke subsp. crispa, Gymnosporia buxifolia (L.) Szyszyl., Olea europaea subsp. africana (Mill.) P.S.Green, Searsia lancea (L.f.) F.A.Barkley and S. pallens (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Moffett.
Mesic thicket and closed woodland occur on the moister mid-altitude slopes. Typical species are Celtis africana Burm.f., Cussonia spicata Thunb., Kiggelaria africana L., Leucosidea sericea Eckl. & Zeyh., Searsia longispina (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Moffett and S. pyroides (Burch.) Moffett.
Very localised ‘pre’-afromontane forest occurs on the SE-facing slope of Goewermentsberg. Typical species are Buddleja salviifolia (L.) Lam., Diospyros scabrida var. cordata (E.Mey. ex A.DC.) De Winter, Grewia occidentalis L. var. occidentalis, Heteromorpha arborescens (Spreng.) Cham. & Schltdl. var. arborescens (interior form), Kiggelaria africana L., Maytenus acuminata (L.f.) Loes. var. acuminata, M. undata (Thunb.) Blakelock, Olinia emarginata Burtt Davy, Pittosporum viridiflorum Sims, Searsia dentata (Thunb.) F.A.Barkley and S. rehmanniana var. glabrata (Sond.) Moffett.
Closed shrubland dominates the drier mid-slopes, and is characterised by species such as Elytropappus rhinocerotis L.f., Euryops annae E.Phillips and Otholobium macradenium (Harv.) C.H.Stirt.
A very species-rich afromontane grassland-shrubland mosaic occurs on the moister mid- to upper altitude slopes and summit plateau, and is mixed with numerous fynbos elements (see below). The dominant grasses are Themeda triandra Forssk. and Merxmuellera disticha (Nees) Conert. Several Sneeuberg endemics are common to abundant, such as Euryops dentatus B.Nord., Gazania caespitosa Bolus and Psoralea margaretiflora C.H. Stirt. & V.R.Clark.
Pure stands of fynbos occur in fire-refugia, and are typically dominated by species such as Acmadenia sp. nov., Agathosma sp., A. venusta (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Pillans, Cliffortia montana Weim., Clutia alaternoides L., Erica leucopelta Tausch, E. passerinoides (Bolus) E.G.H.Oliv., Ficinia nigrescens (Schrad.) J.Raynal, Ischyrolepis sp. aff. constipata H.P.Linder, Phylica paniculata Willd., Rhodocoma capensis Steud., R. fruticosa (Thunb.) H.P.Linder, Tetraria cuspidata (Rottb.) C.B.Clarke and T. fourcadei Turrill & Schönland. These fynbos elements are particularly interesting in that some of these species are disjunctions from the Cape Floristic Region (hereafter CFR).
Localised habitats (micro-habitats) occur, the mostly typical being summit wetlands and cliff-lines. Wetlands are characterised by Kniphofia caulescens Baker and Merxmuellera macowanii (Stapf) Conert), and cliff-lines by a variety of lithophytic ferns such as Asplenium adiantum-nigrum L. var. adiantum-nigrum, A. trichomanes subsp. quadrivalens D.E.Mey., Cystopteris fragilis (L.) Bernh., and succulents such as Crassula perforata Thunb., Haworthia marumiana var. batesiana (Uitewaal) M.B.Bayer, Othonna patula Schltr. and Senecio articulatus (L.f.) Sch.Bip.
As the Kamdebooberge falls into one Quarter Degree Grid Square (3223BD), the intention was not to collect every species encountered, but to rather complement previous comprehensive work done on the adjacent Goewermentsberg since 2008. Thus species not previously collected in the Kamdebooberge were prioritised over other species. The vegetation was in excellent condition following the exceptional recent rainfalls, a previous burn on some of the plateau, and the absence of livestock grazing.
Plants on the mostly uniform summit plateau were sampled by traversing the plateau on foot, as an approximation of the line transect method (Buckland et al. 2007). Micro-habitats (rock outcrops, seeps, cliff-lines, dolerite boulder-fields) were more intensively sampled on an ad hoc basis by careful visual examination. Plants were pressed as per standard practice and later identified in the Selmar Schonland Herbarium (GRA), Albany Museum, Grahamstown, with some specimens sent to taxonomists for expert identification (see Acknowledgements). Apart from these latter specimens, all specimens are now lodged in GRA, with duplicates having been sent to the Bolus Herbarium (University of Cape Town, BOL), the National Herbarium of New South Wales (Australia, NSW), the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (K), Missouri Botanical Gardens (MO), the University of Stellenbosch Herbarium (STEU), and the Swedish Museum of Natural History (S).
A preliminary rapid survey on the Kamdebooberge fauna was conducted while traversing the summit plateau on foot. The rapid assessment methods included opportunistic observations on amphibians, birds and mammals; active searches (Garden et al. 2007) for reptiles; and random collection and photography of common invertebrates. Particular emphasis was given to looking for the bird Chaetops aurantius (Drakensberg Rockjumper) for the purposes of obtaining DNA samples of this Eastern Cape Escarpment and Drakensberg/Maluti endemic (Hockey et al. 2005).
Rodent trapping was attempted using 30 Sherman traps, but logistical difficulties and the preliminary nature of the expedition frustrated trapping on the summit plateau itself. Instead, traps were laid in three transects of ten traps each (ten metres apart) at 1,320 m on the mid-altitude plateau some 500 m east of the farmhouse ‘The Ranges’, in disturbed, closed shrubland and seasonal marshland, for one night (∑c. 300 trapping hours), using peanut butter with chopped vegetables as the bait.
Leafhoppers and planthoppers
Leafhoppers (Hemiptera: Cicadomorpha: Cicadellidae) and planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoromorpha) were the only invertebrate groups sampled systematically. The method used to collect leafhoppers was the traditional sweep net. Mechanised methods such as vacuum sampling could not be used due to the inaccessibility of the terrain. Two tree species were sampled by fogging with a pyrethroid pesticide in the foothills. Identification of leafhoppers was undertaken by MS at the National Collection of Insects, Biosystematics Division of the Agricultural Research Council, using dissections, published descriptions, and comparing with available described species and undescribed specimens housed in this institution.
Results and discussion
Ninety-seven plant specimens were collected, representing 92 species (Additional file 1: Appendix 1). Five of the species collected – Albuca tortuosa Baker, Cyperus tabularis Schrad., Disa porrecta Sw., Microchloa kunthii Desv. and Syringodea concolor (Baker) M.P.de Vos – are additions to Clark et al.’s (2009) flora of the Sneeuberg. An updated version of the Sneeuberg flora is available on the Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme website: http://thegreatescarpment.110mb.com.
A new population of the Kamdebooberge endemic Rutaceae species (Acmadenia sp. nov.) was discovered on the south-east-facing, upper scarp slope on the Farm Ossehoek 99. Fruiting material was collected for the first time and has been sent to BOL for description and publication of the species.
Psoralea margaretiflora C.H.Stirt. & V.R.Clark (Stirton et al. 2011) – first collected in 2005 in the eastern Sneeuberg – was verified in the field by CHS as being a new species, and a manuscript was prepared on site from the Kamdebooberge specimens. The plant is locally abundant in the eastern and western sections of the Sneeuberg. Erica passerinoides, originally only known from the Toorberg (20 km to the north; Clark et al. 2009), was collected again on the Kamdebooberge (a second, large population was discovered on Goewermentsberg in 2010). The Kamdebooberge may thus actually represent the core distribution of this poorly-known western Sneeuberg endemic.
New records on species until recently considered exclusively CFR species were obtained. New populations of Rhodocoma capensis and Tetraria fourcadei were encountered on the Farm Ossehoek 99, the former being the dominant species in Kamdooberge mountain fynbos. Both species are known from Goewermentsberg, where they are abundant and were the first records of these species outside of the CFR.
A massive population (i.e. several hundred thousand individuals) of the shrub Otholobium macradenium was encountered on the north-east facing slopes below the summit plateau on Farms Plaas 96 and The Ranges 69 (1,300–1,700 m). This was the first time this species has been collected in flower in the Sneeuberg since the discovery of the initial Sneeuberg population in December 2005. The species is rare in the CFR (where it has only been sporadically collected) but is abundant in certain areas of the Sneeuberg, notably the Kamdebooberge and from the Nardousberg eastwards to Buffelshoek-se-Pas behind Pearston. The majority of the total population thus seems to be in the Sneeuberg.
Cliffortia montana was recorded as abundant and forming almost pure stands on the Farm Ossehoek 98. This species has a patchy distribution, occurring on the Swartberg (in the CFR), the western Sneeuberg (Kamdebooberge to the Toorberg) and then on the Nardousberg massif.
The vertebrates included three species of amphibians recorded on the summit; Amietophrynus rangeri (Raucous Toad), Cacosternum boettgeri (Dainty Frog) and Strongylopus grayii (Clicking Stream Frog). Both Strongylopus grayii and Cacosternum boettgeri were recorded from a streamlet on the summit plateau, also indicating the watershed value of the Kamdebooberge. Though not recorded from the summit (hence not included in the list) Tomopterna tandyi (Tandy’s Sand Frog) was found from the foothills of the Kamdebooberge, on Farm Oaklands 104.
Five species of reptiles were recorded from the summit, among which Cordylus cordylus (Cape Girdled Lizard), Trachylepis homalocephala (Red-sided Skink) and Afroedura karroica (Karoo Flat Gecko) were the most common. Pachydactylus maculatus (Spotted/Thick-toed Gecko) was observed only in the lower reaches and excluded in the list. Serpentoid reptiles were conspicuous in their absence from the summit plateau.
Avifauna on the mountain was sparse, with only twelve species recorded during the survey. Apart from raptors and two southern African endemics, these were mostly inconspicuous birds. Three of the raptors – Buteo vulpinus (Steppe Buzzard), Falco amurensis (Amur Falcon) and Milvus migrans (Yellow-billed Kite) – are non-breeding migrants and not confined to mountain regions (Hockey et al. 2005). No evidence (visual or audio) of Chaetops aurantius (Drakensberg Rockjumper) was noted, although the habitat is favourable. As the bird was recorded visually on the higher Koudeveldberge massif (20 km to north) in December 2011 by VRC, there is a chance that it may occur sporadically on these lower Kamdebooberg mountains. The greatest number of bird species were noted from the surrounding Karoo plains (not included in the Additional file 2: Appendix 2), most spectacularly an influx of Neotis ludwigii (Lüdwig’s Bustard) feeding on the emergent insects during and after the heavy rains.
Four mammals species were recorded, namely Hystrix africaeaustralis (Cape Porcupine), Oreotragus oreotragus (Klipspringer), Pelea capreolus (Grey Rhebok) and Procavia capensis (Rock Hyrax/ Dassie). Rodent trapping was unsuccessful, possibly due to inclement weather, the trapping period being too short, and the absence of pre-baiting.
An interesting array of invertebrates was noted on the summit plateau. A rich butterfly fauna is evident, with Aeropetes tulbaghia (Mountain Pride) being one of the most conspicuous species seen. Several specimens were collected for Garreth Keevey’s systematics research on this CFR–eastern Great Escarpment endemic (Woodhall 2005). Other interesting species recorded were Tarucus thespis (Fynbos Blue; found in CFR, Sneeuberg and Great Winterberg–Amatolas) and Neita durbani (D’Urban’s Brown; an Eastern Cape endemic; Woodhall 2005). Among the other invertebrates recorded were four myriapods two species of the genus Orthoporoides (Spirostreptida) and one of Polydesmida (Diplopoda), and Rhysida afra (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha); a Hadogenes species (scorpion); grasshoppers such as Dictyophorus spumans and Scintharista cf. saucia; the blister beetle Decapotoma lunata, the dung beetle Macroderes bias, and a monkey beetle of the genus Heterochelus.
Recent work on grass-feeding endemic leafhoppers in the Fynbos and Grassland Biomes in South Africa (Durr 1988; Stiller 20022009a2009b2010a2010b2011) has produced three new genera and 61 new species. Many forb, shrub and tree-associated leafhoppers are still awaiting description. The total number of leafhoppers in southern Africa is estimated conservatively at 600 species, up considerably from the estimated 350 of Scholtz and Holm (1985).
Rare or endemic species feeding on Monocotyledons includes the following: Cephalelus attenuatus is one of 18 species from the CFR, and this genus is always associated with one or more species of Restionaceae (of which at least four species occur in the Kamdebooberge). Records of C. attenuatus suggest a wide distribution in the western and southern parts of South Africa. Drakensbergena gigascutica, Teinopterus mikrophallus and Tetramelasma litopyx are endemic to Karoo Escarpment Grassland (Vegetation Unit GH1 of Mucina and Rutherford 2006), which occurs patchily along the southern Great Escarpment from the eastern Nuweveldberge to the Great Winterberg–Amatolas and Stormberg (Mucina and Rutherford 2006).
Dicotyledon-associations include the following: Afralycisca umbrina is known from few specimens and localities in South Africa. It is probably associated with forbs and appears to be more common on mountain tops in the Grassland Biome. Hangklippia signata is rare, based on the dearth of specimens. The new species of Modderena (sp. nov. near M. albicosta Theron in Additional file 3: Appendix 3) belongs to a genus that feed on shrubs and forbs that are relatively common in South Africa, but this species is not known from outside the Kamdebooberge. The three new genera and species in Athysanini show some similarities with species described from the CFR as well as a number of undescribed species from the Drakensberg, Soutpansberg, and mountains further north (e.g. some examined specimens from Kilimanjaro). Species 1 (#1 in Additional file 3: Appendix 3) bears some resemblance to a number of species described from the CFR. This leafhopper has well developed hind-wings, suggesting an ability to migrate, and close similarity is found in undescribed species of specimens from Storms River, Port Elizabeth, Kareedouw, Graaff-Reinet, Cradock and Fouriesburg, suggesting a wider range of this species than the Kamdebooberge. Species 2 has a reduced hind-wing that is about as long as the forewing, suggesting a poor ability to fly, and no specimens with similar features have been found in any South African insect collection. Species 3 is known only from Farm Oaklands 104, at the base of the Kamdebooberge in mixed woodland/ thicket.
In planthoppers, the dictyopharids and nogodinids probably feed on forbs and are difficult to collect by sweeping, and are probably South African endemics. Poor flying ability or lack thereof appears to be a feature of these endemics. Some planthoppers collected include short-winged species such as Turneriola sp., Telmessodes proconsul (known from the Eastern Cape), and Menenches decuma and M. morta (both described from the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal).
Remarks on conservation value
The results confirm the botanical importance of the Kamdebooberge, with its two strict endemics (Acmadenia sp. nov., Faurea sp. nov.), healthy populations of five other Sneeuberg endemics (Erica passerinoides, Euryops dentatus, Gazania caespitosa, Haworthia marumiana var. batesiana, Psoralea margaretiflora), and the unique composition of the fynbos communities found on the upper SE-facing slopes. Further botanical exploration in these mountains may well yield more undescribed species, additional populations of local endemics, and additions to the Sneeuberg flora.
Although only the list for herpetofauna (except for serpentoid reptiles) could be considered fairly complete, the results indicate that the Kamdebooberge has a rich and varied faunal diversity. Among amphibians, Amietophrynus rangeri (Raucous Toad) and Strongylopus grayii (Clicking Stream Frog) are southern African endemics (Minter et al. 2004). Out of the five species of reptiles recorded, two are of high conservation importance. The Afroedura karroica (Karoo Flat Gecko) is endemic to the Sneeuberg range and its immediate surroundings, while Cordylus cordylus (Cape Girdled Lizard) is an Eastern Cape and Western Cape endemic. Pseudocordylus microlepidotus (Cape Crag Lizard) and Trachylepis homalocephala (Red-sided Skink are southern African endemics (Branch 1998). Among the birds recorded, Macronyx capensis (Orange-throated Longclaw) and Serinus canicollis (Cape Canary) are southern African endemics (Hockey et al.2005). The importance of the Kamdebooberge for raptors-especially as a possible nesting site is evident, particularly for rugged terrain species such as Aquila verreauxii (Verreaux’s/Black Eagle), and from previous sightings of Aquila pennata (Booted Eagle) and Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial Eagle). From a conservation perspective the most important among recorded mammals is the South African endemic Pelea capreolus (Grey Rhebok), given its patchy montane distribution and its population stronghold in the Sneeuberg (Skinner and Chimimba 2005).
The total number of leafhopper species recorded is comparatively low, probably as a limited number of plants were sampled, the weather was not optimal for collecting, and the expedition took place early in the season. Furthermore, the apparent absence of fire might have an influence on leafhopper diversity, in contrast to the regularity of fire in the Grassland and Fynbos Biomes. The majority of species however are widespread throughout Africa or southern Africa, feeding on a wide range of plants, with some related to species that are sporadic or common pests in agriculture. The three undescribed species have so far only been recorded from the Kamdebooberge, and may have some affiliations with species from the CFR.
The faunal studies are still largely incomplete and demand intensive observations in future – including extensive trapping, nocturnal sampling and recording indirect evidence. Although preliminary, these results have however already sparked interest among zoologists (e.g. Myriapodes), who may pursue their own field surveys in the Kamdebooberge.
Supplementary online data available
Web-article: The Great Escarpment Biodiversity Research Programme http://thegreatescarpment.110mb.com/.
The expedition was organised as part of the South African Association of Systematic Biology (SASSB) 9th Conference hosted by Rhodes University, Grahamstown, in January 2011. Accordingly, the SASSB conference organising committee and Rhodes University (particularly the Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme, and the Departments of Botany and Zoology and Entomology) are thanked for their roles in the organising and logistics of this expedition. The expedition made financially possible by the National Research Foundation. The expedition was lead by VRC during a Rhodes University Post-Doctoral Fellowship, for which Fellowship the University is thanked. The Doctoral Research Grant to SJP from the University of KwaZulu-Natal is acknowledged for facilitating the participation of SJP & DR-P. PS attendance at the SASSB conference was been partially supported by the EU funded FP7 ViBRANT project (contract number RI-261532).
Our hosts, Koos & Suzanne Lategan (Waterkloof), are very much thanked for the excellent facilities and lavish farm food. Oom Pen (The Ranges) is thanked for generously taking us up in his Landrover so that maximum time could be spent on the summit. These landowners – together with the Nels – are also thanked for permissions to collect botanical specimens on their properties. Much appreciation and thanks to Anthony Magee (NBG), Clare Archer (PRE), Dee Snijman (NBG), John Manning (NBG), Mario Martínez-Azorín (GRA), Peter Goldblatt (MO), Pieter Bester (PRE) and Ted Oliver (STEU) for determining specimens in the Apiaceae, Apocynaceae, Cyperaceae, Ericaceae and petaloid monocots. Chris Kelly, Christian Deschodt, Jemma Finch, Mark Brown, Clarke Scholtz, Jonathan Colville, Martin Villet, Michelle Hamer, Şerban Procheş and Werner Conradie are thanked for their generous help in faunal species identification. Tony Dold, Curator of the Selmar Schonland Herbarium, Albany Museum, is thanked for space and facilities provided to process the plant material and to access the GRA collection for identifications. The Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism (Province of the Eastern Cape) is thanked and acknowledged for the relevant plant collecting and export permits. Garreth Keevey (Department of Botany, Rhodes University) assisted greatly in putting a web-album together from the trip, linked to the Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme home-page.
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