Eastern Cape Forest Project

The effect of habitat fragmentation on faunal diversity of Eastern Cape forests

Project Period: 2016-2018


The creepy crawlies and other animals which inhabit the misty forests of the Eastern Cape will be the subject of this three-year research project funded by the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP). The proposed study area form part of the Maputoland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot and involves scientists from Stellenbosch University (SU) and four other South African universities, as well as Harvard University in the US and six museums.

Prof. Michael Cherry, from the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University and project leader, says that their data and findings could inform decisions on proposed dry gas and titanium mining operations in the area, as well as the new dam planned at Mzimvubu and the N2-Wild Coast Highway. And should SANParks proceed with the proclamation of the Pondoland National Park, the project could assist with determining the boundaries, he adds.


Project Abstract

Forests make up only 0.56% of SA, but display unusually high biodiversity. Naturally patchy, they have been further fragmented by human activities: nearly 50% of indigenous forests are estimated to have experienced anthropogenic fragmentation, which together with the introduction of alien plantations, has led to range changes in dependent faunal species. Recent work has shown that half of SA forest dependent bird species have experienced range declines since 1992, mostly in the former Transkei and Ciskei homelands of the Eastern Cape.

Two primary causes of these declines are habitat loss due to deforestation and forest degradation. In terms of global change, significant deforestation has taken place between 1990 and 2013/4, as indicated by National Land Cover data. Forests are important in terms of the bio-economy as they have traditionally been harvested by local rural communities, but post-democracy have experienced increased pressure for fuel wood and building material collection, grazing, burning for cultivation and collection of plants for medicine.

Further degradation occurs where utilization of particular tree species by humans leads to declining forest condition, although boundaries may remain intact. 

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Legal logging of indigenous trees takes place in only two forests in SA (Knysna and Pirie), but recently, larger scale illegal logging and harvesting of other plant material by commercial interests has been increasing, creating a potential conflict between these operations and communities which are partially dependent on forests for their livelihood. Our proposed area of study forms part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany (MPA) Biodiversity Hotspot.

Eastern Cape forest diversity has been well-documented only in terms of trees; and faunal diversity has been conspicuously poorly documented. As such, this area represents an excellent candidate for a FBIP, particularly as the Eastern Cape contains 46% of SA’s natural forests.

Lead Organisations & Partners

Project Leader: Prof. Michael Cherry, Stellenbosch University.

Participating Institutions:

The core investigators on the project are:

Prof. Michael Cherry, Stellenbosch University.

Prof. Nox Makunga, Stellenbosch University.

Prof. Savel Daniels, Stellenbosch University.

Other collaborators are from Walther Sisulu and Rhodes universities in the Eastern Cape, the universities of Pretoria and Cape Town, and Harvard University in the United States.

No fewer than six museums are involved including four from the Eastern Cape (Amathole, Albany, Port Elizabeth and East London) plus Iziko Museums of Cape Town and the Durban Natural History Museum.

Researchers from the South African Environmental Observation Network, the Agricultural Research Council, Birdlife Southern Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Forestwood CC make are also working together with the team.

Data Sets 

Data sets will be made available once the project is concluded


Eastern Cape Forest Project Articles