Namaqualand--A brief overview of the physical and floristic environment

Desmet, P G
Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Year: 
This paper provides a brief introduction to the physical environment of Namaqualand as well as an overview of patterns of plant diversity. The diverse array of parent material and geological processes that have shaped the region since the break up of Gondwanaland have created a complex, and sometimes dynamic physical environment, that is partly responsible for the patterns and processes observed in the biota today. The contemporary climate is characterised by relatively reliable, albeit low (50-250 mm pa), winter rainfall ( 62;60% winter precipitation) arriving between May and September. East of the central mountains, tropical thunderstorms penetrate the region in late summer (February-April). The presence of the cold Atlantic Ocean in the west not only moderates temperatures throughout Namaqualand (mean max summer temperature 30°C), but also provides alternative sources of moisture in the form of coastal fog and heavy dew experienced in winter months. Recent analyses show that the flora of the Succulent Karoo is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, now termed the Greater Cape Floral Kingdom. It is one of only two desert regions recognised as a global biodiversity hot-spot and contains an estimated 6356 plant species in 168 families and 1002 genera. Namaqualand, which comprises about one quarter of the area of the Succulent Karoo, contains about 3500 species in 135 families and 724 genera, with about 25% of this flora endemic to Namaqualand. This remarkable diversity, however, is not distributed evenly throughout the region, but is concentrated in many local centres of endemism usually associated either with quartzite mountain complexes or lag-gravel plains (quartz-patches). A major exception to the general pattern of centres of diversity is the true Fynbos vegetation of the highest Kamiesberg peaks where rainfall exceeds 400 mm pa. Suggested determinants of the region's exceptional floral diversity include the complex physical environment, a unique past and present climate and the region's diverse fauna, most notably insects. The challenge for the current inhabitants and scientists working in the region is to develop a better understanding of this ecosystem so that they will be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by the demands for land and the prospect of global climate change.
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Journal of Arid Environments
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Document Type: 
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Grassland Society of Southern Africa

The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) is involved and concerned with the science and practice of range and pasture management. This broad field involves primarily the use and conservation of natural resources. It encompasses applied fields such as livestock production, wildlife management, nature conservation, water catchment management and range and mine-dump rehabilitation. The disciplines include, amongst others, ecology, botany zoology, range and pasture science, animal science, soil science and genetics. This collection includes journal articles from the African Journal of Range and Forage Science as well as related articles and reports from throughout the Southern African region.