Threatened Species Research

With 2 300 threatened Red Data List species, South Africa ranks high on the list of biodiversity disaster areas. This figure excludes a further 360 near-threatened and 730 with insufficient data. Some areas such as the City of Cape Town rank as mega disaster areas, with extremely high concentrations of threatened species. The main threats are agriculture/ agroforestry, alien invasive plants, urbanisation and inappropriate vegetation management - specifically inappropriate fire regimes and overgrazing.

The Threatened Species Research Unit is investigating the threats, conservation and restoration of key species of plants. Animals are being managed by the animal unit.

Specialised Surveys

  • The distribution of "Frankenflora" in the Table Mountain National Park. Frankenflora are species that are 'indigenous' to South Africa, but alien to the area in which they now occur. During the mid-late 20th century indigenous SA plants which did not occur naturally in an area, were widely planted to beautify scenic and conservation areas. This is especially true of the Table Mountain National Park. A survey is necessary to determine the extent of the problem and what needs to be done.
  • The Protea Atlas Project contains 250 000 records of 380 protea species at 65 000 sites in southern Africa. This premier data set is being used to explore species distribution modeling, climate change, population changes, threats and conservation planning within the region. If you wish to use this exciting data to answer your research questions, please contact us.


  • Frankenflora: what are the effects of the translocation of close relatives in the species-rich Cape Flora? Many closely related species in the CFR have allopatric (exclusive) distribution ranges. Moving a species outside of its natural range into that of closely-related species could result in competition and hybridisation. Similarly, the planting of cultivars and commercial orchards within the natural range of parent species is expected to result in genetic exchange. The relative impacts of such translocations are poorly understood and are being investigated.
  • Restoration of Critically Endangered Vegetation Types using Red List of South African Plants. About 20 national vegetation types are listed as Critically Endangered. These require restoration of disturbed areas to meet the national conservation targets. This is also an opportunity to establish viable populations of threatened species, including those extinct in the wild. Unfortunately, microhabitat requirements of such species are often unknown. Protocols and procedures for germination, bulking up and restoration of these and less threatened species are being investigated.

Are threatened species found mainly in threatened habitats?

Intuitively, as habitat transformation is the major threat to biodiversity, most threatened species should occur in most transformed areas. However, alien invasive species, suboptimal management, climate change and diseases also affect many species. We are investigating the link between habitat rarity and species rarity in the Cape Flora. We suspect that about one-third of threatened species occur in unthreatened habitats.

How much data are needed for Red Data List Assessments?

With 20 000 plant species, and 3000 vertebrate species South Africa is richly endowed with biodiversity. Unfortunately, expertise and resources are limited, so rapid techniques for assessing biodiversity loss are required. Good herbarium and museum data often exist, as do remote techniques for monitoring habitat loss, degradation and alien invasion. But are these enough to determine the Red Data List status of species in the region? We suspect not, but given inadequate resources it may provide a good first cut.

Important Plant Areas

Target five of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation requires that 50% of the most important plant diversity area is assured. We have identified the important plant areas at a cadastre scale in the Succulent Karoo and Fynbos biomes and the proportion of these units conserved in protected areas. We suspect that for species-rich areas, such as the Cape Flora, fine-scale plans will be more useful in identifying important areas for conservation. This is because they incorporate more factors than just threatened plants, such as vegetation types and habitat transformation.


Establishing guidelines for the monitoring of Red Data List and endemic species by amateurs. There are far too many species in the Cape for conservation authorities to monitor them. The City of Cape Town contains over 1000 RDL and endemic species. The Table Mountain National Park alone contains over 550 species of special concern! Protocols and procedures are being developed to allow concerned citizens to help with monitoring and species rescue.

Long-term monitoring of the Quiver Tree Aloe dichotoma.

We have been monitoring selected Namaqualand populations of Quiver Tree since 1987. These data have proved invaluable in investigating the demography of the species and changing climate.

Staff & Contact Details

Dr. Tony (A.G.) Rebelo

Last updated on 16 February 2017
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