Commercial wildflower production in the fynbos biome and its role in the management of land-use

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The wildflower industry of the Cape, South Africa, utilizes ecosystems and vegetation of the Fynbos Biome either directly by harvesting of natural plant populations, or indirectly by land transformation for agro-horticultural production. This thesis reports on a study of conservation and management issues arising from: (a) direct veld-harvesting; and (b) primary annexation of land for controlled production of material. A review of the industry's structure and the controlling legislation, indicated a need for integration of current management strategies. A potential means of anticipating population degradation and local extinction of plant species through over-utilization was investigated by construction of a computer model. Lack of data describing the flow of material and revenue was highlighted as an impediment to resource management by means if modelling. Experimental work investigated the effects of marginal cultivation on mountain fynbos ecosystems as utilized by the industry. Work was conducted at a site in the Highlands Forest Reserve in the south-western Cape. This experimental system was cleared by burning, and tilled as if for commercial production. Disturbance effects on system parameters were monitored. These included energy and water regimes, aspects of community structure, plant growth, and water relations of the natural vegetation. Results showed that tillage altered the system during the dry summer months by increasing reflectivity of the soil surface to solar radiation, reducing soil temperatures, and increasing soil water content. Response of the vegetation included reduction of species richness and diversity, a reduction in projected foliar cover, and an increase in the productivity of some, but not all, of the naturally occurring dominant species. Two commercially favoured species of Protea were also introduced to the site. Survival and productivity of these populations were monitored as responses to substrate disturbance. Results showed that the treatment was significantly associated with better survival for P. cynaroides, but better productivity for P. repens. A concluding review suggests that there are general paradigmatic blocks between the economic and ecological facets of natural resource utilization which prevent implementation of optimal environmental management strategies. The wildflower industry is nominated as a small bridge for that gap.

Bibliography: pages 175-201.