Gladiolus rudis, a cape endemic
By area, the Cape Floristic Province of South Africa is the most biodiverse floristic kingdom on the planet. To give you an idea, there are 30 percent more plant species in the Cape Floristic Province than in the entire United States, yet the area it covers is less than that of Alaska. An amazing 69 percent of that biodiversity occurs nowhere else on earth. Only four to six percent of the renosterveld vegetation type remains, and it is in danger of being lost forever to modern agricultural technology and indifferent, uninformed land use decisions. In fact, all regional varieties of the renosterveld are now listed as “critically endangered” by the South African government.
Floral kingdoms across the world
As a conservation biologist, when I first visited the renosterveld and heard these facts, I was stunned that more wasn’t being done to conserve this globally important landscape. I treated the experience like a call-to-arms. I spent the next year designing and developing a novel conservation project with the help of my two project partners, Odette Curtis, PhD and Director of the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust, and David Gwynne-Evans, PhD and Director of CASABIO, the collaborative archive of South African biodiversity. We have presently designed a project that will serve to explore the aesthetic value of the ecosystem and the individual organisms within it while simultaneously gathering vital information that will aid in the conservation and preservation of the renosterveld from a scientific standpoint.
Information on the spatial distribution of individual species is invaluable to the understanding of the renosterveld from an ecological and conservation standpoint and a person is much more likely to care about a species if they are cognizant of its existence and its name. To complete this project, I will photograph the plant, bird, and mammal species of individual renosterveld remnants across the former range of the renosterveld.
Over the last five years, my multiple positions in executing botany field research has given me the experience necessary to use a landscape-scale grid system to help map out the renosterveld in its entirety. Each photo taken will be geolocated on site, then uploaded to CASABIO. Each species or photo will then act as a data point within the ecologically oriented CASABIO database. This data will allow conservation biologists to map population trends, land managers to identify critical conservation areas, educators to write locally relevant environmental lesson plans, and much more.
Another component of this project is to promote local environmental awareness and education. This program is free and open to the public, and we encourage visitors to upload their own photos and interact with the ecological models. We will also give local landowners a simple field guide, which will cover the flora and fauna that occur on their land. To involve even more people, our team will host photographic "BioBlitzes" in communities within the renosterveld landscape, giving the public a chance to interact with our project by taking their own photos and uploading them to the database while learning about the renosterveld.
A synthesis of artistic expression and scientific discovery, this project is a unique approach to conservation and one that we feel will be very successful despite the low budget. Initiating public action in conserving this highly endangered ecosystem will aid scientists as well as empower private landowners and community members with the ability to identify and appreciate the nuanced beauty that is the biodiversity of the landscape in which they live. If you’d like to be a part of it all, please visit our Kickstarter campaign.
This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.
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