Grasslands, Amongst South Africa's Most Threatened Ecosystems Featured Hot

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Grasslands of Umgeni Valley by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick.jpg

Covering six of South Africa’s provinces, grasslands are critical ecosystem service providers that also support major economic and agricultural benefits to the country. They have also been identified as critically endangered and requiring conservation attention. This is mainly as a result of large-scale landscape transformation from human-based activities that include forestry, mining, urban expansion and over-grazing of livestock.

Bisected by numerous wetlands, grasslands are critical water production areas that act as sponges, collecting rainwater and assisting in flood attenuation through reducing runoff and erosion. The steady supply of water that they supply is critical for human survival and economic development. Their rich soils make them popular for agriculture and livestock grazing, particularly in rural areas where many local communities are dependent on them for grazing, providing grasses for housing and weaving and for medicinal plants. Grasslands are also biodiversity hotspots with over 3370 plants species occurring together with 15 endemic mammals species, 13 species of threatened reptiles and amphibians and 10 globally threatened bird species.

Although poor land use management practices are resulting in land degradation, large-scale forestry and mining are amongst the greatest threats that are currently destroying the grasslands. Much of this is taking place in the high-priority and extremely sensitive areas that will ultimately affect water availability and quality for large sectors of the human population. Urban and industrial expansion is also transforming large areas of grasslands with additional impacts of highly polluting industries affecting air quality.

It is important for priority grassland areas to be incorporated into planning and decision making so that damage to these critical life supporting ecosystems can be mitigated and best practice management strategies for their protection can be implemented.

lotheni river by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

1 of 12: Grasslands are the water factories of South Africa that provide large sectors of the population with water to survive. Much of the counries industrial hubs are dependent on this water.

Grassland flowers by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

2 of 12: Grasslands are biodiversity hotspots with over 3370 plants species having been recorded and which form the basis of a thriving and diverse ecosystem.

Southern Crowned Crane in grasslands by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

3 of 12: Many grassland bird species are threatened as a result of the human transformation that is taking place on these sensitive ecosystems.

Garden Orb spider in grasslands by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

4 of 12: A Garden-Orb spider with its web spun in long grass, feeds on a grasshopper that has flown into its web.

Delicate direama flowers by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

5 of 12: The delicate petals of a pink Dirama flower push above the grass basal cover.

Acraea butterfly on grass stem by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

6 of 12: An Acraea butterfly suns itself at the top of a long grass stem.

Banded Martin by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

7 of 12: Banded Martins are specialists that breed and feed amongst the grasslands.

Eland herd in the grassland by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

8 of 12: Eland are important mega-herbivores of the grasslands, often occurring in herds of several hundred when they come together to calve and breed.

Dragonfly covered in morning dew by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

9 of 12: A Dragonfly that is covered in overnight dew, clasps to a grass stem where it has spent the night.

regrowth on burnt grass stubble by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

10 of 12: Fire is critical in grasslands as it removes moribund material allowing regrowth and seeding to take place. 

Pine tree plantations by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

11 of 12: Forestry is one of the threats that grasslands face, but best practice management models can mitigate the harmful impact.

Sugarcane plantations by Wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

12 of 12: Large-scale land transformation is a major threat to grasslands, reducing water availability and destroying species biodiversity.

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I think another huge issue observed in both KZN and EC is bush encroachment, where grasslands are becoming thickets due to the increase in woody biomass.
Commented by Lavinia November 02, 2015

Acacia karroo encroachment in grasslands

I think another huge issue observed in both KZN and EC is bush encroachment, where grasslands are becoming thickets due to the increase in woody biomass.

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Peter Chadwick
Author: Peter ChadwickWebsite: http://www.peterchadwick.co.zaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
About
As a dedicated conservationist, Peter Chadwick has 30 years strategic and operational conservation experience in terrestrial and marine protected area management. He has worked within all of the major biomes in southern Africa as well as having provided expert conservation advice at a global level. His conservation and wildlife photography is a natural extension to his conservation work where he has numerous opportunities to capture photographs that showcase the beauty and complexity of the outdoors. Peter’s photography is internationally recognized, with this work appearing globally in a wide range of print and electronic media.