The invertebrates of indigenous forests in Limpopo province South Africa : diversity, biogeography and conservation.
In this study I investigated patterns of invertebrate diversity in Limpopo Province indigenous forests, in order to highlight forests and taxa of special conservation significance. Invertebrates from seven target taxa were sampled in 11 patches of indigenous forest in Limpopo Province from February 2001 to January 2002, including six forests in the Soutpansberg and five forests in the northern Drakensberg. Selected forests comprise three distinct vegetation subtypes and the target taxa selected were millipedes, centipedes, earthworms, terrestrial molluscs, spiders, scorpions and amphipods. Invertebrates were sampled by active searching of quadrats and line transects and pitfall traps. A total of 11 969 indigenous target group individuals were sampled, comprising 14 orders, 50 families, 86 genera and 142 species (including at least nine new). There was a significant difference in the total invertebrate species richness and diversity of forest patches but results varied considerably when different target group figures were analyzed. With the exception of spiders, the factors influencing total and individual target group richness in forests could not be determined. Introduced invertebrates comprised a large proportion of the species and individuals sampled, but were not shown to affect indigenous fauna. Invertebrate species assemblages were most similar between forests sharing the same vegetation subtype and between forests in the same mountain region. However, each forest patch had unique species and some even had unique families. Limpopo Province forests support high numbers of endemic invertebrates. A total of 47 endemic invertebrate species were sampled, including six site endemics, eight local endemics, nine regional endemics and 24 national endemics. The numbers and scales of endemism varied by target group. Invertebrate species’ distributions in Limpopo Province forests generally support the biogeographic theories of Pleistocene forest refugia and the Limpopo River valley as a radiation barrier, although some important contradictions were found. Local endemism in Limpopo Province forests is likely the product of historical processes. Although some significant relationships were found between surrogate and true measures, single taxon biodiversity indicators, the higher taxon method, morphospecies and land classes could not accurately predict patterns of target invertebrate species richness in Limpopo Province forests. Results show that formal species identification should be used if accurate richness estimates are desired; the use of surrogates is not supported by this study. Conservation of Limpopo Province forests is vital for the preservation of valuable invertebrate communities. No forest sampled in this study can be considered unimportant. Effective forest conservation and management is dependent upon the protection of forests of varying patch size, careful evaluation and control of utilization and the establishment and maintenance of corridors linking isolated forest patches.
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