South Africa's natural heritage is vast and staggering in its proportions -- home the third-highest level of biodiversity (biological diversity) in the world -- and is thus the perefect destination for an ecology safari. For example, over 3 700 marine species occur in South African waters and nowhere else in the world.
Some 18 000 vascular plant species occur within South Africa's boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else. More plant species occur within 22 000 hectares (ha) of the Table Mountain National Park (formerly the Cape Peninsula National Park), than the whole of the British Isles or New Zealand.
Ten vegetation zones cover Southern Africa:
The largest zone is the Kalahari Savannah, which comprise of grasslands and small groups of trees and covers most of Botswana, Namibia and part of South Africa. Deep sands underlie the vegetation. It occurs at an elevation of below 1 000 m and receives less than 400 mm rain per annum. Fossil dunes, dry river valleys and salt pans. It has no surface water.
The second largest zone is the Karoo Schrubland area, which covers most of South Africa. Rugged in parts, with canyons and valleys. Few perennial rivers. Many species are restricted to this zone. Includes Kaokoland, Damaraland, Richtersveld and Namaqualand.
The largest game parks in this region are found in the Mixed Woodland vegetation area, which comprise of grass, tree and also mountainous vegetation areas.This is a type of savanna characterised by relatively short trees, including Acacia and broad-leaved species.
It is also referred to as bushveld. Generally occurring at altitudes below 1 500 m, it includes much of the lowveld of Mpumalanga. It offers a wide diversity of species, but few are restricted to this biome.
Unique to South Africa, is the smallest vegetation biome in the world, the Fynbos Biome -- a prime destination for Ecology Tours. It covers a very small area in the south-western Cape and it is home to more than 7000 plant species. This is twice as many as is found in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is found on generally hilly or mountainous country and dominated by proteas, heaths, restios and bulbous plants. The vegetation zone receives rainfall in the winter only and a great number of species are restricted to this zone.
Dominated by large evergreen trees, Forests contain few mammals but many birds. The coastal and lowland forests occur along the eastern seaboard, while montane forest occurs in specific pockets about 1 200 m. The high rainfall is a feature of this zone. Only small fragments of true closed-canopy forest remain today.