An assessment of the distribution and conservation status of endemic and near endemic plant species in Maputaland

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Maputaland Centre of Endemism (MCE), an area stretching from northern-east KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to the Limpopo River in southern Mozambique, holds more than 2,500 native plant species. Of those, over 203 are endemic or near endemic to this area. However, the current high human population density in MCE, coupled with high population growth, has increased the pressure on the natural resources of the region and threatens the natural vegetation and plant diversity. Therefore, there is a pressing need to fully understand the threats faced by the Maputaland endemic and near endemic plants and to carry out appropriate conservation actions. In this context, the main aim of the study was to document the distribution of the MCE endemic plant species, with particular emphasis on southern Mozambique. The study also aimed to document the threats to these species and to assess their global conservation status using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Categories and Criteria. This was done by gathering historical species distribution data from herbarium specimens and by assessing their current distribution in the field. In addition, a land cover data set was used to evaluate the level of habitat transformation over time. As a result, 13 endemics were assessed, 11 of these species for the first time. Of the 13 species assessed, two were assessed as Least Concern, five as Vulnerable, four Endangered, one Critically Endangered, and one possibly Extinct. MaxEnt models were used to model the potential distribution of the species assessed and to identify hotspots and priority areas for conservation. The priority areas represent sites of greatest overlap, where 50% of all modelled species overlap in their suitable potential distributions. With this approach, priority areas were identified that can be used in conservation planning, protected area expansion, or other conservation projects. This analysis showed that the highest number of the study species (>7) is concentrated within the Licuati Forest, located south of Maputo in Matutuine District, southern Mozambique. The main threat to this area is charcoal extraction and although none of the endemic species are targeted for charcoal production, the impact of the associated habitat destruction on the endemic species is expected to cause severe declines. It is recommended that studies on the dynamics of the Licuati Thicket vegetation are needed, particularly in terms of the impact of charcoal extraction on the endemics.