Biodiversity and Conservation

, 20:2543 | Cite as

The Great Escarpment of southern Africa: a new frontier for biodiversity exploration

  • V. Ralph ClarkEmail author
  • Nigel P. Barker
  • Laco Mucina
Review Paper


The biodiversity of the 5,000 km-long Great Escarpment of southern Africa is currently poorly known, despite hosting half of the subcontinent’s centres of plant endemism and to have a rich endemic vertebrate fauna, particularly in the north-west and east. A country-based overview of endemism, data deficiencies and conservation challenges is provided, with Angola being the country in most need of Escarpment research and conservation. Given that the Escarpment provides most of the subcontinent’s fresh water, protection and restoration of Escarpment habitat providing such ecological services is urgently required. Key research needs are exhaustive biodiversity surveys, systematic studies to test refugia and migration hypotheses, and the effects of modern climate change. Such research results can then be consolidated into effective conservation planning and co-ordinated international efforts to protect the rich biodiversity of the Escarpment and the ecological services it provides.


Great Escarpment Biodiversity Conservation priorities Endemism Research needs Southern Africa Unexplored 



This paper is a product from of a PhD logistically supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in the form of Grant GUN 2069059 and a freestanding South African Biosystematics Initiative (SABI) grant (2006–2009), a Buk’Indalo Consultancy cc (Durban) scholarship (2005–2007), the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration (Grant 8521–08), and a Dudley D’Ewes Scholarship from the Cape Tercentenary Foundation. This paper was constructed during a Rhodes University post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Botany, which Department is thanked for logistical and technical assistance. Colleen Mannheimer, Syd Ramdhani, Carl Huchzermeyer, Mario Martínez-Azorín and Gareth Hempson very kindly provided photographs of several components of the Escarpment. The comments of Brian Huntley and Estrela Figueiredo on the Angolan Escarpment are very much appreciated. Timothy Mattison accompanied the first author for a ‘look see’ of the Angolan Escarpment near Lubango, and Sheldon Goss kindly organised a trip with the first author to Mount Gorongosa in Mozambique (both in 2010). The University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University contributed to a trip along the Chimanimani–Nyanga Escarpment (2011). Garreth Keevey (Rhodes University Department of Botany) produced the topographic layout of Fig. 1.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Ralph Clark
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nigel P. Barker
    • 2
  • Laco Mucina
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BotanyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme, Department of BotanyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Curtin Institute for Biodiversity and Climate, Department of Environment and AgricultureCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia

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