Terrestrial Biomes (continued from last week)

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Terrestrial biomes occur on land and are usually classified based on the dominant vegetation, climate or geographic location. The location and characteristics of the biome is mainly influenced by climatic conditions such as rainfall and temperature.

South African Biomes

The latest classification of the terrestrial biomes in South Africa divides the region into the following eight biomes:

  1. Grassland
  2. Savanna
  3. Succulent Karoo
  4. Nama Karoo
  5. Forest
  6. Fynbos
  7. Thicket
  8. Desert


Location: evident on the Highveld.

Climate: typically have summer rainfall of 400 mm to 2000 mm (Typically by late afternoon thunderstorm). Winters are cold, often associated with frost

Flora: One in every six species is a grass, but trees do grow on the hills and alongside riverbeds. Other species include bulbous plants such as arum lilies, watsonias,aloes, gladioli and ground orchids.

Fauna: home to several animal species including 15 (or 45%) of South Africa’s endemic mammal species, 10 globally threatened bird species, 52 of the 122 Important Bird Areas in South Africa, and some endemic fish species. Some of the more recognisable animal species include blue cranes, blue swallows, oribi and bald ibis. There are numerous grass-eating herbivores be found in grasslands , (such as black wildebeest, blesbok and eland). Rodents are also common which makes this biome an ideal territory for birds of prey. The diverse plant types also support numerous plant-eating insects such as butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets and ants.

Soil and geography: the soil is red/yellow/grey or red/black clay with  rich fertile top layers.


Location: one of the largest in SouthAfrica. Found mainly in the Northern Cape, North West Province, Northern Province and KwaZulu Natal.

Climate: summers are hot and wet and the winters are cool with little or no rain. Frost does occur in winter.

Flora: this biome is also known as the bushveld, where grasses are mainly found and regular fires prevent the trees from dominating. Herbaceous plants and woody plants can be found in different areas. Plants are able to withstand fire.

Fauna: big game species such as kudu and Springbok, lion, buffalo and elephant are found. Some parts are also malaria-prone.

Soil and geography: the soil is red/black clay, red/yellow, grey and is often sandy.


3.Succulent Karoo

Location: the biome is found along the west coast of the Northern Cape Province and the northern parts of the Western Cape Province.

Climate: hot in summer and cold in winter with low rainfall. Frost occurs but generally causes no damage. Fog is relatively common.

Flora: forty percent of the plant species found here are endemic. The Namaqualand region is famous for its colourful wild flowers (August). Succulent plants are able survive dry seasons by using water stored in their leaves or stems.

Fauna: insects are common and the plants provide grazing for sheep and goats. There are browsing antelope and many nocturnal animals (aardwolf, jackal, bat eared foxes, owls, porcupines,civets, genets and a variety of tortoises)

Soil and geography: lime-rich weakly developed soils on rocks and sands, erosion are prevalent.


Location: the Nama Karoo is the second largest biome in South Africa. It forms the major part of the Northern Cape Province and the Free State.

Climate: it is regarded as a semi-desert area receiving very little rain. The summers are very hot and the winters are very cold and frost often occurs.

Flora: it is mainly grassy dwarf shrub land.Grazing is good for sheep and goats.

Fauna: include the threatened riverine rabbit, springhare,tortoises, brown locust, bat eared foxes and ostrich.

Soil and geography: soil occurring on rocks is weakly developed. The area is also very sandy with rocks and red clay, making erosion occur easily.


Location: occurs in patches, in areas such as Knysna (Western Cape) as well as Kwa Zulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

Climate: some forests experience winter rain, while others get rainfall throughout the year.

Flora: they are dominated by trees of which the such as yellowood( largest) stinkwood and ironwood as well as climbers, mosses and ferns.

Fauna: small mammals such as bushpig, bushbuck and monkeys and numerous insect species ,the canopy is an ideal habitat for birds such as the knysnaloeries, pigeons and eagles.

Soil and geography: forests range in altitude from sea level to above 2000 metres, soil is well drained and fertile, most types are present.

Forests create a habitat for other species; the tree canopy provides protection and shelter to animals whilst the shady environment encourages the growth of shade loving, low growing plants, the tree bark creates a habitat for insects.


Location: fynbos is a natural shrub found in the Western Cape of South Africa.This biome contains approximately 75% of South Africa’s threatened, rare plants.

Climate: cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers (Mediterranean climate conditions).

Flora: fynbos is widely known for its widespread biodiversity. Important plant types found include proteas with their beautiful flowers. Plants growing here do not lose their leaves. The biome has the highestfynbos variety in the world, with over 9000 species of fynbos recorded.

Fynbos flora has a high degree of endemism- the ecological state of being specific to a geographic location in this case, a defined biome such as the fynbos.

Soil and geography: poor, acid and coarse-grained soil with low nutrient levels, plants roots are situated near the surface for nutrient absorption.

Fire is a necessary stage in the life cycle of nearly all fynbos plants, and is common during the dry summer months. Many of the seeds germinate only after the intense heat of a fire. As proteas ‘prepare’ for the fire, they retain their seeds on the bush for at least a year, a habit known as serotiny.

The lowlands of the fynbos areas have been developed for agriculture and wine farming. Due to this, various species of fynbos have been threatened. For this reason, the fynbos region must be protected and preserved as it is a major


Location: Occur along the coast of Kwa Zulu Natal and the        Eastern Cape

Climate: thickets develop in areas where the rainfall is fairly high however; there may be dry periods that prevent the vegetation from developing into forests.

Flora: the vegetation includes shrub-land to low forest with numerous evergreen and succulent trees and shrubs some ares in the Eastern Cape are comprised of dense impenetrable vegetation.

Fauna: kudu,vervet monkey, bushbuck, elephant, hares,aardvark,mice,impala,lions, hyenas and leopard.

Soil and geography: most thickets occur in deep river valleys and areas of undulating hills and valleys. Soil can be both poor and fertile varying from sandy with some lime concentrations.


Location: found largely in the Namib Desert along the coast of Namibia.The transition regions between deserts and grasslands are sometimes called semi- deserts.

Climate: deserts are dry areas where evaporation usually exceeds precipitation. Rainfall is low and can be highly variable.The low humidity results in temperature extremes between day and night. Deserts can be hot during the day and cold at night. Hot deserts (e.g. the Namib and Kalahari) are very hot in the summer and have high temperatures throughout the year with seasonal rainfall. This combination of low rainfall and high temperatures keeps the air very dry, increasing its evaporating power.Fog does occur in coastal regions.

Flora: deserts have relatively little vegetation.Annual grasses occur after good rains and perennial plants occur where there are concentrations of water.

Fauna: many insects (fog beetle, scorpions) and reptiles (lizards and snakes) occur in the desert biome. Animals include the oryx (gemsbok), desert elephant, desert lion, black rhino, as well as baboon, leopard, cheetah, brown and spotted hyena, foxes, zebra, a variety of buck as well as wild horses left by the German Army after WW1, all of whom have adapted to desert conditions.

Soil and geography: the soil consists mostly of sand, gravel or rocks.

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