A biodiversity hotspot faces intensification of viticulture: the role of Fynbos remnants for the conservation of plants and butterflies

Project: Research

Project participants

  • University of Cape Town
  • Brenton Blue Trust


Biodiversity hotspots are global priority areas for conservation, as they contain numerous endemic species and have lost much natural habitat in the past. One example is the Fynbos biome within the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa, which is under pressure due to land-use change. Here, viticulture increasingly expands into remnants of Renosterveld vegetation, with uncertain consequences for the associated fauna. Whether an integrative conservation approach may offer solutions both for biodiversity and human well-being in these landscapes is yet unexplored and would need profound understanding of the complex social-ecological interactions.

Research approach, hypotheses, methodology:
Through the lens of interdisciplinary landscape sustainability science, this project uses butterflies as target species, because they are of high conservation concern and offer great potential for ecological and ethno-cultural studies. Explanations for biodiversity patterns of butterflies will be tested in response to the interaction of different biophysical and socio-economic settings. Moreover, the underlying intrinsic values which humans assign to biodiversity will be unraveled by using butterflies as boundary species between human and nature. The three following hypotheses will be tested: (1) The amount, the size, the connectivity, and the quality of native Renosterveld vegetation patches determine the viability of endangered butterfly populations. (2) Butterfly diversity changes along a gradient of spatial heterogeneity of the agricultural mosaic. (3) Socio-economic settings and the values held by locals are linked to biodiversity patterns. Existing distribution and habitat data in the Swartland will be synthesised for endangered butterflies, which will then be surveyed in habitat remnants of Renosterveld vegetation. Butterfly diversity will then be assessed across the entire landscape, and environmental and socio-economic data as well as data on the underlying value system of land managers will be examined. Various aspects of butterfly diversity will be statistically modelled for responses to the different biophysical and anthropogenic settings.

The research project aims at understanding both the responses of species towards their environment and the underlying mechanisms that drive anthropogenic land-use change. The outcome will deliver scientific evidence on how to best shape ecologically meaningful and socially acceptable solutions for a sustainable land management in one the most important biodiversity hotspots on Earth. The innovative combination of ecological and social assessments will eventually feed into global initiatives such as IPBES and thus have an impact not only on the scientific community but also on global governance of social-ecological systems.

Research outputs