LOOK: Scores of previously undescribed species discovered during Drakensberg Bioblitz

Drakensberg Bioblitz. Picture: Angus Burns

Drakensberg Bioblitz. Picture: Angus Burns

Published Nov 2, 2022


Numerous previously unrecorded species were discovered during a week-long “bioblitz” event which took place along the Eastern Cape Drakensberg mountains in February this year.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) SA said that in order to gain a clearer understanding of distribution patterns, species of conservation concern and the identification of endemic and range-restricted species, 50 taxonomic experts, ecologists and key biodiversity practitioners participated in the event.

The survey was led by the SA National Parks (SANParks) with support from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and WWF SA.

The biological survey turned up scores of new and undescribed species in an area which has been earmarked for the establishment of a new national grasslands park set within a working agricultural landscape made possible through voluntary stewardship agreements with both communal and private landowners.

Picture: Angus Burns

The survey, within the north-eastern grasslands of the Eastern Cape between Rhodes village, Nqanqarhu (previously known as Maclear) and Mount Fletcher, aimed to gain a better understanding of the biological diversity required to help guide a long-term management plan.

According to the press release, Ruan Booysen and a team from the University of the Free State found a total of 149 species, many of which could only be found in the Drakensberg, and collected several unknown and undescribed species.

Vathiswa Zikishe and the SANBI and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency teams observed 521 plant species including one undescribed orchid species which has yet to be published, and two species that have only recently been described.

They said the area displayed an incredible diversity of plants and recommended regular field surveys for this “data-scarce region”.

Peter Hawkes and his Afribug team found 54 ant species, six of which were undescribed and a further 18 that are not yet fully identified. They also found at least one, possibly two, undescribed species of flightless katydids (sometimes known as bush crickets).

Hawkes said even though the survey period was brief, it had resulted in a “substantial contribution to the knowledge of South African and fauna”.

David Bilton and a team from the University of Plymouth and the University of Johannesburg sampled around 70 species across 19 sites and also found some species new to science with identification ongoing.

John Midgley and a team from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum recorded 50 species of hoverflies which amounts to almost 1% of the global diversity. They reported that the higher altitude sites had lower overall diversity but with several rare species making the site worthy of special conservation attention.

Werner Conradie from the Port Elizabeth Museum and team recorded eight amphibian species and 12 reptile species, with three new records for the region.

Melissa Whitecross and a team from BirdLife South Africa reported that the bird life in the area was excellent, particularly in the high-altitude areas which yielded good numbers of the endemic species and included encounters with both Cape and Bearded vultures.

Overall, they recorded more than 130 species of birds.

Participants also looked at the veld condition and the general health of the rivers and wetlands in the area and recommended improved maintenance of the veld through a regular fire regime, control of invasive alien species, management of erosion, and the reduction of grazing on the steepest slopes be undertaken.

The bioblitz findings concluded that the high altitude sites were still in relatively pristine condition and that the area offered a multitude of natural attractions, among them birds, floral diversity, geology, stargazing, and cultural heritage.