Insect diversity in Cape fynbos and neighbouring South African vegetation

14 October 2010

Aim It has often been suggested that South Africa’s Cape fynbos shrublands, although extremely rich in plant species, are poor in insects, thus representing a notable exception from the broad plant–insect diversity relationship. The aims of this study were to compare the diversity patterns of plant-inhabiting insects in fynbos and the vegetation of three neighbouring biomes (grassland, subtropical thicket, and Nama-karoo), and to test for a general relationship between plant diversity and insect diversity across these biomes. Location South-western to south-eastern South Africa. Methods We conducted seasonal plant surveys and sweep insect sampling in 10×10 m plots in the Baviaanskloof Conservation Area (Eastern Cape), where all four biomes occur. We also conducted once-only collections in the core area of each biome. Results Fynbos plots had insect diversity values similar to those of grassland and subtropical thicket (a dense, evergreen and spinescent shrubland with a high abundance of succulents and climbers), and significantly higher than Nama-karoo (an open, semiarid shrubland). A remarkably strong positive relationship was found between plant and insect species richness. Main conclusions Previous generalizations were based on a few insect groups (e.g. butterflies, under-represented in fynbos), but ignored published results on other groups (e.g. galling insects, which are in fact over-represented in this vegetation). We show that, overall, insect diversity in fynbos is comparable to that of neighbouring biomes. Fynbos vegetation does not represent a significant exception from the broad positive relationship between plant diversity and insect diversity.