The ecology and management of the Kaapsehoop cycad (Encephalartos laevifolius Stapf and Burtt Davy)

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Kaapsehoop Cycad (Encephalartos laevifolius Stapf and Burtt Davy) has the international, national, and provincial status of "endangered" by virtue of a number of factors which threaten it with extinction. It occurs in only three disjunct populations in southern Africa, of which two are very small and have only adult plants. This situation suggested the need for specific action to ensure the conservation of the plant within its natural habitat. This study was initiated in an attempt to respond to this call for action. The aims of the study were set at gaining an understanding of the ecology of the cycad, establishing the exact nature and extent of the factors threatening it with extinction, and presenting management guidelines as to how the plant and its habitat may be managed to ensure their conservation. Chapter One includes a background to the botanical significance of cycads in general, the reasons for the endangered status of E. laevifolius and a list of aims and objectives. The latter are briefly; to develop. an understanding of the ecology of this cycad, determine the nature and extent of the threats which have placed it in the ''endangered" category, and establish means of managing the plants and their habitat so as to mitigate these threats . The methodology followed to achieve the latter is presented in Chapter Two. The results achieved from work carried out by the author are presented In Chapter Three, and they are then discussed in Chapter Four, together with those obtained from other researchers and experts in the field of cycad ecology and management. From this it becomes apparent that the major factor threatening the plants continued existence in nature, is its illegal removal by unscrupulous collectors. The use of fire as a management tool may cause the loss of sexually propagated off-spring if not based on ecological principals. This would be tragic as the percentage of fertile seed being produced at present is extremely low. Besides the latter two abiotic threats, there are two biotic threats which are also .cause for concern. They are the rotting of the female cones and seed by a pathogenic infection, and the destruction of newly growing tissue by the caterpillars of the Leopard Moth. The insights gained from the study are drawn together as conclusions in Chapter Five. Where these indicate specific management measures or directions for further research, recommendations are made. It must be emphasized that although this study has been used for the enhancement of the author's academic qualification, it is vitally important that the recommendations made be seriously reviewed by those responsible for the conservation of this cycad. If this study is simply put on the shelf after it has achieved its academic goal, the possibility of E. laevifolius becoming extinct is very real.

Bibliography: p. 182-190.