About the Author(s)


Anisha Dayaram Email
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kirstenbosch, South Africa

Leslie Powrie
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kirstenbosch, South Africa

Tony Rebelo
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kirstenbosch, South Africa

Andrew Skowno
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kirstenbosch, South Africa

Citation


Dayaram, A., Powrie, L., Rebelo, T. & Skowno, A., 2017, ‘Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland 2009 and 2012: A description of changes from 2006’, Bothalia 47(1), a2223. https://doi.org/10.4102/abc.v47i1.2223

Short Communication

Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland 2009 and 2012: A description of changes from 2006

Anisha Dayaram, Leslie Powrie, Tony Rebelo, Andrew Skowno

Received: 09 Feb. 2017; Accepted: 01 May 2017; Published: 29 June 2017

Copyright: © 2017. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Background: The variety of applications in which the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (VEGMAP) is used requires the map to be continually updated and refined to reflect the latest available information. The VEGMAP has been updated twice, in 2009 and 2012, since its first release in 2006.

Objectives: The first objective is to report on the motivations for changes in the 2009 and 2012 versions. The second objective is to describe new vegetation types and subtypes included in these versions.

Method: Changes to the VEGMAP are implemented after a peer-review process that is managed by the National Vegetation Map Committee. Accepted changes are then incorporated into the VEGMAP using GIS software.

Results: Seventy-one of the 449 vegetation types were affected by updates. Changes included the addition of new vegetation types and subtypes, modifications to the boundaries of types present in the 2006 VEGMAP and changes to the names of vegetation types.

Conclusion: The updates have affected a small portion of the map but have reflected a progressive refinement in quality. Regions that are still mapped at a coarse scale, especially those earmarked for land-use development, should be prioritised for improved map accuracy and classification through a more proactive approach towards vegetation mapping, using guidelines that are under development.

Introduction

The National Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (VEGMAP) (ed. Mucina & Rutherford 2006) is a geographical classification of groups of plant communities across South Africa. The project was a collaboration between vegetation experts in the early 2000s under the custodianship of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Uses for the VEGMAP are widespread and cross-sectorial. Therefore, SANBI has a responsibility to ensure that the map reflects the most up-to-date knowledge available. Similar to early versions of vegetation maps in other parts of the world (Barbour, Todd Keeler-Wolf & Schoenherr 2007), the first version of the VEGMAP was based on the best available data at the time and implemented through a largely top-down approach as vast regions of the country had been poorly sampled. While some areas of the map were developed from existing fine scale maps and floristic data (~6% of the map), much of the vegetation map was inferred from environmental predictors of floristic biogeography such as geology (~8%), climate (~5%), topography (~0.1%), bioresource units (~5%), land types (~42%) and satellite imagery (~7%) (Mucina, Rutherford & Powrie 2006). Consequently, the VEGMAP is effective in representing natural vegetation communities at the national scale, but the top-down classification is less effective at the local scale (Barbour et al. 2007; Greenberg et al. 2006). There is thus a process through which the National Vegetation Map can be updated to improve its mapping accuracy in large parts of the country.

The 2009 and 2012 updates of the VEGMAP drew on suggestions and queries submitted by botanists and ecologists working at SANBI and various partner organisations. These versions were made available on the Biodiversity GIS (BGIS) website (www.bgis.org.za) since 2009, where full descriptions of each new vegetation type were recently (2016) added as downloadable portable documents (pdf). However, the justifications for re-classification of vegetation types and additions of new types have not been formally published. This paper highlights areas edited in the 2009 and the 2012 updates. We justify these changes and provide summary descriptions of the new vegetation types and subtypes.

Methods

Data requirements for changes to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland

Proposed changes require review and validation before they can be accepted. Therefore, a National Vegetation Map Committee (NVMC) was formed in 2007. Similar to other international classification committees, such as the vegetation subcommittee of the American Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC 2008) and the Canadian National Vegetation Classification Technical Committee, the NVMC provides technical direction for the VEGMAP project and ratifies proposed changes where sufficient justification has been submitted. The minimum information required for a proposed change will depend on the nature of the change. Minor changes include changes to the boundaries of existing vegetation types and updates to the descriptions. Major changes include the proposal of new vegetation types or merging of existing types. The minimum information required for a change to be accepted includes: (1) a digital map of proposed boundaries; (2) detailed justification for the various changes (often with satellite imagery, aerial photographs or orthophotographs); (3) for new vegetation types and subtypes the justification must include a broad description of the landscape, vegetation structure, associated geology, soils, landscape features and climate, lists of dominant and diagnostic species, conservation status and (optionally) threats; and (4) a georeferenced colour photograph with a caption. Major changes must be accompanied by a peer reviewed publication or report.

Results

Summary of changes to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland

The sources of changes implemented in the updates include vegetation mapping for fine scale planning (Helme 2007a, 2007b, 2007c; Helme & Koopman 2007; Van der Merwe et al. 2008a, 2008b; Vlok, Cowling & Wolf 2005), provincial planning (Scott-Shaw & Escott 2011) and field work conducted by members of the NVMC. Accepted changes to the VEGMAP have included alterations to the boundaries of vegetation types classified in 2006: changes to the spelling of vegetation type names (4), the addition of new vegetation types (11) and the addition of subtypes of existing vegetation types (9). The reasons for changes ranged from ground truthed (direct observation of vegetation patterns in the field) evidence to evidence based on re-analysis using updated satellite imagery (Table 1).

TABLE 1: The South African vegetation types updated in 2009 and 2012 grouped by change category. Subscripts are referenced below the table.

Ground-truthing was the most common form of evidence (90% of the affected vegetation types) used to justify changes, often supplemented by information on floristic, geomorphological, structural or geological distinctness. Minor changes in 2012 included changing the names of four vegetation types to remove the circumflex (^) from the region name ‘Rûens’. This was aimed at eliminating errors in computer syntax.

The boundaries of 43 vegetation types were edited in the 2009 version and four in the 2012 version. New vegetation types were added mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape provinces (Figure 1). Six new vegetation types and nine subtypes (mainly in the Western and Northern Cape provinces) were added in 2009, and six types were added in 2012. Four of the new vegetation types (SKk9, SVl25, SVl26 and SVl27) were described in the Succulent Karoo biome, with two each from the Fynbos (FFs32, FFh11) and Grassland (Gs19, Gs20) biomes, and one from the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt (CB6). One vegetation type (FFa5 Olifants Alluvium Fynbos) was added in 2009 from fine scale planning, but it was removed in 2012 as supporting evidence was insufficient to justify the change. Three of the five sources of accepted updates emerged out of provincial or city-funded fine scale planning projects. New polygons were added (W5 Reclaimed Land) to represent the current extent of a small portion of coast in Table Bay that was filled in during upgrades to Cape Town Harbour in the 1940s. This area was not historically vegetated and is mapped but not considered to be a vegetation type.

FIGURE 1: The edited areas of the South African VEGMAP affected by the 2009 and 2012 updates.

A condensed version of the descriptions for new vegetation types and subtypes added in 2009 and 2012 versions is outlined in Tables 2 and 3.

TABLE 2: Names, vegetation map codes and summarised descriptions of new vegetation types added to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland since the original 2006 publication.
TABLE 2 (Continues…): Names, vegetation map codes and summarised descriptions of new vegetation types added to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland since the original 2006 publication.
TABLE 2 (Continues…): Names, vegetation map codes and summarised descriptions of new vegetation types added to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland since the original 2006 publication.
TABLE 3: Names, vegetation map codes and summarised descriptions of new vegetation subtypes added to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland since the original 2006 publication.
TABLE 3 (Continues…): Names, vegetation map codes and summarised descriptions of new vegetation subtypes added to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland since the original 2006 publication.

Discussion

Overall, the 2009 and 2012 versions of the VEGMAP have been progressive refinements in scale and accuracy compared to the 2006 version, although these are limited to a few regions. Recent versions have also allowed for the inclusion of finer scale data in the form of subtypes. A problem remains as when to allow subtypes in a way that prevents a proliferation of vegetation units that will compromise the national scale of VEGMAP. Subtypes vary in scale, and in the criteria used to define them; thus some subtypes are represented by several units spread over larger geographies (e.g. FS1.2 Graafwater Flats Strandveld), while others are represented by a single isolated unit (e.g. FRs8.2 Kluitjieskraal Silcrete Renosterveld). This has the potential to become problematic as the units for types are refined, and approach the same scale as the units currently mapped as subtypes. This occurrence can only be avoided by a clear and well-defined classification hierarchy.

The VEGMAP changes to date were driven by a relatively passive approach to data acquisition, from private botanical consultants and government conservation officials raising concerns about the current map, and providing information from fine scale planning work. Consequently, updates have been concentrated in areas where funding, capacity and historical baseline information was available. Areas that have been updated so far coincided with three principal regions and two centres of plant endemism, namely, Kamiesberg Centre of the Cape Floristic Region, the Little Karoo Centre of the Succulent Karoo Region and a large extent of the Maputaland-Pondoland Region (Steenkamp et al. 2005).

Twelve of the centres of plant endemism have not been refined in the nine-year update period. Of these, seven (i.e. Albany Centre, Drakensberg-alpine Centre, Barberton Centre, Wolkberg Center, Sekhukhuneland Centre, Soutpansberg Centre and Griqualand Centre) occur in the northern and central interiors of the country. These centres coincide with areas that either historically fell within the homeland territory (Wessels et al. 2004), are agricultural areas or are areas of economic development. Thus, botanical exploration has not been conducted to the same extent as in the eastern and western coastal regions where the updates have occurred. These unrefined parts of the northern, central interior and parts of the coastal Western Cape need to be prioritised for future refinement as the units in these regions are often large and were initially mapped at a coarse scale by inferring vegetation types from environmental patterns, e.g. land types were used to map many vegetation types in the Nama Karoo. In addition, many of these areas are in various stages of land-use transformation caused by urban and industrial development (Donaldson 2006), platinum and coal mining (Jeffrey 2005; Armitage, McDonald & Tredoux 2007), the installation of solar and wind farms (Sparks et al. 2014) and shale gas development activities (Greef 2012).

To improve the VEGMAP in these regions, we need to streamline a process of data collection from the mapping of units to the submission and acceptance of updates, while providing reasonable standards to maintain data quality. To this end, we are developing a defined classification hierarchy for the VEGMAP, explicit standards to guide the mapping of VEGMAP units across each of the biomes and a set of guidelines for submitting and accepting updates to the VEGMAP. We are also exploring more proactive approaches to narrowing gaps between the expert driven classification that underpins the current VEGMAP and the actual communities that they represent.

Acknowledgements

The Vegetation Map Project is a large collaborative project that has spanned over two decades. Many have contributed to the success of this project and are too numerous to name individually; however, they are acknowledged in the original publication. The authors wish to thank Mr Nick Helme, Dr Helga van der Merwe, the late Mr Robb Scott-Shaw, Mr Boyd Escott and Mr Jan Vlok for sharing data that contributed to the updated areas in the 2009 and 2012 versions of the vegetation map. The authors also thank Emily Botts for proofreading.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

A.D. prepared the draft; L.P. implemented the bulk of the technical changes to the map; and T.R. and A.S. edited the text.

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