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Open Access Research article

Preliminary inventory and classification of indigenous afromontane forests on the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Mervyn C Lötter1 and Hans T Beck2

Author Affiliations

1 Terrestrial Services, Scientific Services, Mpumalanga Parks Board, Private Bag X1088, Lydenburg, 1120, South Africa

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115 USA

BMC Ecology 2004, 4:9  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-4-9

Published: 2 August 2004



Mixed evergreen forests form the smallest, most widely distributed and fragmented biome in southern Africa. Within South Africa, 44% of this vegetation type has been transformed. Afromontane forest only covers 0.56 % of South Africa, yet it contains 5.35% of South Africa's plant species. Prior to this investigation of the indigenous forests on the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (BRCNR), very little was known about the size, floristic composition and conservation status of the forest biome conserved within the reserve. We report here an inventory of the forest size, fragmentation, species composition and the basic floristic communities along environmental gradients.


A total of 2111 ha of forest occurs on Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. The forest is fragmented, with a total of 60 forest patches recorded, varying from 0.21 ha to 567 ha in size. On average, patch size was 23 ha. Two forest communities – high altitude moist afromontane forest and low altitude dry afromontane forest – are identified. Sub-communities are recognized based on canopy development and slope, respectively. An altitudinal gradient accounts for most of the variation within the forest communities.


BRCNR has a fragmented network of small forest patches that together make up 7.3% of the reserve's surface area. These forest patches host a variety of forest-dependent trees, including some species considered rare, insufficiently known, or listed under the Red Data List of South African Plants. The fragmented nature of the relatively small forest patches accentuates the need for careful fire management and stringent alien plant control.