South Africa


When the continent of Africa was the central region of the ancient continent of Gondwana it was probably covered in sub-tropical forest. Since its breakaway the pre-African surface has been largely eroded away. The vegetation of the sub-Saharan section is now tropical, and tropical elements have colonised regions further to the south, while modified Gondwanan elements can be found in the tropical zone. Very little subtropical rainforest now remains, most of it on the slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains, themselves remnants of the pre-African surface that were not ground down by erosion. Though such Afromontane forests may give the impression that they are Antarctic, given the representation of families such as the Podocarpaceae, Cupressaceae, Proteaceae and Cunioniaceae, there is no representative of the characteristic Antarctic family, the Nothofagaceae, and tropical taxa far outnumber the Gondwanan elements.
The subtropical broad-leaf Knysna forest with a yearly rainfall of 525 to 1220mm, runs along the Garden Route from George to Port Elizabeth, covering an area of no more than 568 km2 in discontinuous pockets on the south-facing slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains. Inland, about 400 km east-north-east, at higher altitudes, lie the wetter Amatole forests (405 km2) with annual rainfall of 750 to 1500mm. Both forests were logged for their valuable timber, the Knysna Forest since the eighteenth century and the Amatole Forest throughout the twentieth. The native tree cover, which included the podocarpaceous yellowwoods, Afrocarpus falcatus and Podocarpus latifolius, has been replaced in parts by commercial pine plantations. On 6 March 2009 the Tsitsikamma National Park was amalgamated with the Wilderness National Park and other reserves to form the Garden Route National Park. Though the forests are now protected, harvesting of native timbers continues. Within the forest occur isolated patches of fynbos, with the greatest variety of Gondwanan plant species anywhere in the world. The fynbos shrub- and heath-land is fire-adapted and fire-dependent; where fynbos is prevented from burning, forest species soon invade.

Comments are closed.