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Cape is world's extinction capital

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Published Aug 14, 2014

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Cape Town - The Western Cape and Cape Town in particular is the plant extinction capital of the world, according to a local biodiversity and conservation expert.

“We are losing (plant) species at a rate several hundred times faster than the natural rate of extinction,” says Professor Gavin Maneveldt of the University of the Western Cape's biodiversity and conservation biology department.

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The main culprits are habitat loss, land degradation, and invasive alien plants, with climate change and new diseases set to exacerbate the situation further.

His warning comes in the preface to the official publication of the second International Cape Floral Kingdom Expo (CFKE), which will open at Mega Park in the Overberg town of Bredasdorp on August 28.

The expo will showcase more than 1000 different fynbos species and an array of other wildflowers from the region, in what the organisers say is the biggest indoor fynbos expo in the world.

Maneveldt says more than 1700 plants in the Western Cape are currently threatened with extinction Ä more than two-thirds of the country's total threatened plants.

Of the plants known to have gone extinct in South Africa, well over half (21 species) have been from the province.

“The Western Cape and Cape Town in particular, is regarded as the extinction capital of the world,” said Maneveldt.

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The Cape Floristic Region, or Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), the smallest of the world's six recognised floral kingdoms, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism (roughly 70 percent of its plants are endemic).

“The CFK falls almost entirely (79 percent) within the Western Cape, and it is this floral kingdom that makes the region so special.

“Unfortunately, this very remarkable place is also the country’s most threatened reservoir of plant and animal life.”

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Maneveldt says the three most important historical threats include permanent habitat loss (including urban expansion, infrastructure development and agricultural expansion); invasive alien plant species (that displace indigenous species); and, habitat degradation (through overgrazing and inappropriate fire frequencies and intensities).

The two most important emerging threats are climate change and new diseases.

Sapa

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