BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
A biome is a particular community of fauna and flora that are adapted to their specific natural environment. As a field guide, you’ll be learning about South Africa’s fascinating biomes and sharing your knowledge with guests.
Let’s take a trip through the different types of biomes in South Africa to get a taste for the terrain, climate, and everything in between.
The biosphere refers to all living things on Earth. It’s split into different biomes. Areas with a similar climate and geography are categorised as a biome, and the conditions in a biome determine the types of animals and plants (fauna and flora) that can live there.
In South Africa there are seven types of biome. These biomes are the perfect setting for indigenous South African animals. In fact, the biomes of South Africa give rise to some of the largest animals in the world. So what are these biomes, and how do they support South Africa’s creatures great and small?
Original photo: “Tree nature landscape” by negahuk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The savannah is the largest of the different types of biome in South Africa.
Looking out over its sandy plains, scattered with thorn trees and spiky bushes, you may think of the savannah as a quiet place.
But you’d better keep your wits about you, since the savannah is home to most of the big African animals like lions, elephants, buffalos, and kudus.
These beasts are built for this bushveld terrain – where the vegetation consists mainly of low-growing thorn trees and bushes.
And the fact that each of these animals can reach a speedy pace also helps in this savannah biome, where the hot and dry climate sets the scene for regular fires.
And the reason that the savannah is home to these spiky bushes and thorn trees is because low annual rainfall means less water for plants. While grasses and bushes can efficiently absorb the minimal amount of water available, most trees find this terrain too thirst-inducing.
Savannah biomes are found in the western parts of Limpopo, northern parts of the Northern Cape and Free State, and KwaZulu Natal.
If you find yourself thrust into a thicket biome, you’d see groupings of short trees peeking out of tangles of low-growing shrubs and vines.
Thickets refer to dense groups of bushes or trees, and thicket biomes are most common in areas with high levels of rainfall, accompanied by dry spells that prevent the thickets from developing into forests.
And there are some types of animals that love to tuck away in thickets. Take for example the kudus, monkeys and bushbuck that call this type of terrain home.
And if the thought of a thicket biome makes it hard to keep your claustrophobia in check, then there are other types of biome in South Africa that may tickle your fancy – or even your feet.
A grassland biome is one where the vegetation is mainly grasses, with trees growing on hills or along river beds.
The South African highveld – parts of the uncultivated countryside that lies at a higher altitude – is home to the South African grasslands.
This area experiences summer rainfall and winters cold enough for frost to form.
And grass-eating herbivores couldn’t be happier with the dinner that this type of biome in South Africa serves up.
Black wildebeest, blesbok and eland feed in these pastures. And with rodents rustling through the long grass, this type of South African biome becomes the perfect hunting ground for birds of prey.
Patches of forest occur throughout South Africa.
Some forests make do with rainfall that comes only during winter, while others are spoilt with showers throughout the year.
If you find yourself in a forest, your first thought may be “well, this place is filled with trees”, and this is what forests are all about.
Yellowwood trees are the biggest trees found in South African forests, but there are more than 1,700 species that take root here too.
And this tree-top setting is the perfect place for birds – like loeries, eagles and pigeons – to nest.
Small mammals – like bushpig, bushbuck and monkeys – also find this forest biome a fantastic place to settle down. They don’t even mind being bugged by the many insects that also forage in these forests.
But while forests and grasslands contribute to South Africa’s terrain, there are some biomes that give South Africa its distinct flavour, like the flowering fields of Fynbos.
Original photo: “Sunbird protea” by Free-Photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Fynbos is the natural vegetation found in the Western Cape. The cold wet winters, and hot dry summers in this area provide the perfect place for fynbos to put down roots.
And fynbos is really a flurry of floral species, with the WWF stating that the Western Cape is more botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforests in South America, including the Amazon, because of its fynbos.
This type of South African biome has nutrient-poor soils and can’t grow the type of vegetation that could support big herds of animals or very large animals.But small mammals do well in this biome and you’d probably run into chacma baboons, klipspringers, grysbok, dassies, mongooses, and even the striped mouse.
You’ll also see many different species of butterfly and even some reptiles and amphibians – including the geometric tortoise, the world’s second rarest tortoise.
Original photo: “Karoo Landscape …”byberniedupis licensed underCC BY-SA 2.0
The Nama Karoo is the second largest biome in South Africa and it’s classified as a semi-desert area, receiving very little rain.
This arid terrain allows for little more than grassy dwarf shrubs to grow.
But insects dig this type of biome. In fact, brown locusts and Karoo caterpillars are the main residents of the Nama Karoo.
These critters are happy in this dry desert-region, but there are booms in their numbers when the rains come along – which isn’t very often.
Original photo: “Succulents desert” by TambraNicole is licensed underCC BY-SA 2.0
And if you’re wondering if proteas are the only flowers you’ll find in the biomes of South Africa, the answer is no.
Just take a trip down to Namaqualand to see the flowering region of the Succulent Karoo and desert.
Namaqualand is famous for its flowers. You can soak up the true colours of the South African outdoors with a trip to the flowering fields.
You see, the flowering season is rather short – just over a month – and the flowers don’t stay out all day. In fact, after opening up in the morning, these desert divas close up in the afternoon (at around 4pm).
Original photo: “Namaqualand Wild Flowers”bytitoh44is licensed underCC BY 2.0
But there are other things for your eyes to feast on in the Succulent Karoo and desert.
Succulents – plants with parts that are abnormally thickened and fleshy – are the less temperamental neighbours of the Namaqualand wild flowers.
This tough type of plant can stick out the hot dry summers and cold winters of the Karoo because they can store water and wait it out until the next rains – which in the Succulent Karoo are few and far between.
And because the Succulent Karoo and desert isn’t the most hospitable biome, the fauna consists of goats and sheep who graze on the vegetation, and insects that scurry in between.
So taking a trip through the different biomes in South Africa can be a real journey. And this can be an epic learning experience for any field guide.
Take a look at our Bushwise Field Guides programs that can get you learning more about some of these biomes of South Africa, and spreading the knowledge.
What are 7 biomes of South Africa? ›
The general plant characteristics give a characteristic visual signature to the vegetation of the biome. Rutherford and Westfall (1994) map seven biomes of South Africa: Savanna, Thicket, Grassland, Forest, Fynbos, Nama Karoo, Succulent Karoo and Desert.What biome does South Africa have? ›
The current biome classification (Mucina and Rutherford 2006) subdivides the country into Fynbos, Desert, Succulent Karoo, Nama-Karoo , Albany Thicket, Savanna, Grassland, Forest, and Indian Ocean Coastal Belt (Figs.What are the 5 main biomes in Africa? ›
- Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub.
- Deserts and Xeric Shrublands.
- Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands.
- Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests.
- Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests.
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests. Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests. Flooded Grasslands and Savannas. Afro-Alpine Grasslands and Shrublands.What are the two main biomes in South Africa? ›
- Nama Karoo.
- succulent Karoo.
- grassland, and.
Mucina and Rutherford (2006) map nine biomes in South Africa: Fynbos Biome; Succulent Karoo Biome; Desert Biome; Nama-Karoo Biome; Grassland Biome; Savanna Biome; Albany Thicket Biome; Indian Ocean Coastal Belt; Forests; and two on the subantarctic Prince Edward Islands: Subantarctic Tundra Biome and Polar Desert Biome ...How many biomes are there in South Africa? ›
South Africa has nine biomes, or broad groupings of vegetation types that share similar ecological characteristics. Each biome has a characteristic climate envelope, or a range and pattern of temperature and rainfall values, within which it occurs.Why does southern Africa have so many biomes? ›
The combination of climate and topography give rise to broad vegetation zones in the country, and together with their associated animal life they form diverse areas we refer to as South Africa's biomes.What is the major biome of Africa? ›
Savanna Biome dominates the African continent and covers 54% of southern Africa (Scholes, 1997;Rutherford et al., 2006, Fig. 1).What are the 5 most important biomes? ›
There are five major types of biomes: aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra, though some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga. Aquatic biomes include both freshwater and marine biomes.
How many biomes exist in Africa? ›
They are distinguished by characteristic temperatures and amount of precipitation. This map shows the geographic distribution of the eleven major terrestrial biomes found in Africa (out of 14 worldwide). It shows that the same biome can occur in geographically distinct areas with similar climates.Which biome is known as Bushveld? ›
|Biome||tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands|
Grassland, Thicket, and Nama-Karoo: the least protected biomes. Grassland is also one of South Africa's largest and most threatened biomes.What are the three biomes in Africa? ›
Highlights. Three biomes were identified based on their major growth forms: savannas, 'thickets' and forest. Different species assemblages occurred in each biome.What is South Africa's largest biome? ›
The Savanna Biome is the largest Biome in southern Africa, occupying 46% of its area, and over one-third the area of South Africa. It is well developed over the lowveld and Kalahari region of South Africa and is also the dominant vegetation in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.What is the second largest biome in South Africa? ›
The Grassland Biome is the 2nd largest of South Africa's 8 biomes, covering almost one third of the land surface, across 7 of the provinces. The biodiversity of the Grassland Biome is extremely rich and is second only to the Fynbos Biome.What is the main vegetation in South Africa? ›
Savanna vegetation comprises a continuum of vegetation types with varying degrees of canopy cover. There are dry forest areas with closed canopies, lightly wooded grasslands, arid shrublands and bushveld which comprises more trees than woodland but fewer trees than closed canopy forest.What are the 6 most important biomes? ›
There is general agreement among ecologists that our complex natural world can, based on temperature and rainfall, be classified into six major biomes: desert, tundra, grassland, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and tropical forest (Odum, 1989).What is the smallest biome in South Africa? ›
Forest Biome is the smallest biome in South Africa only covering about 0.1% of the country (1 062 km). They are grown in high areas with high rainfall where there is no frost. Forests consist of trees that form a closed canopy with layers of plants beneath the canopy.How many main biomes are there? ›
Some count six (forest, grassland, freshwater, marine, desert, and tundra), others eight (separating two types of forests and adding tropical savannah), and still others are more specific and count as many as 11 biomes.
What is the climate in South Africa? ›
The topography varies from desert to semi-desert in the drier northwestern region to sub-humid and wet along the country's eastern coast; approximately half of the country is classified as arid or semi-arid.What biome are so important? ›
Aquatic biomes are probably the most important of all the biomes. Their medium, water, is a major natural resource. Water is the basis of life, it supports life, and countless species live in it for all or part of their lives. Freshwater biomes supply us with our drinking water and water for crop irrigation.What is the most important biome and why explain it briefly? ›
Aquatic Biomes or Water Biomes
Water is the most important and essential element among the biological community. The total earth's surface is covered by water which is nearly 70 to 80 percent. Therefore, aquatic biomes are the largest and widest biome in the world.
Biomes allow the development of biological diversity, providing vital resources for subsistence such as oxygen, carbon and raw materials such as food or other products — a set of benefits called “ecosystem services”.What are 3 interesting facts about Africa? ›
- It is the second largest continent of the world. ...
- There are 54 countries in Africa. ...
- Africa has the world's largest desert – sort of! ...
- It is home to the world's longest river, The Nile. ...
- Most of the world's diamonds come from Africa.
Biomes are the various regions of our planet that can best be distinguished by their climate, fauna and flora. There are different ways of classifying biomes but the common elements are climate, habitat, animal and plant adaptation, biodiversity and human activity.Which biome is very very rainy in Africa? ›
Key Takeaways: Savanna Biome
Due to its open environment, camouflage and mimicry are essential for animal survival in the savanna. Savannas have extreme wet seasons and dry seasons. They can receive over four feet of rain during the wet season, and as little as a few inches during the dry.
- Temperate oceans with net primary productivity of 16.3g per year.
- Tropic and subtropical oceans with net primary productivity of 13.0 per year.
- Coastal with net primary productivity of 10.7.
- Sea biomes. Marine. ❖ Covers 70% of earth. ❖ All the water is salt water. ...
- Land biomes. Grassland and Savanna. ❖ Made up of lots of different types of. grass. ...
- ❖ They get lots of rain. ❖ They are warm all year round because they. are near the equator.
It is the largest biome on planet Earth and covers around 70% of the Earth's surface and over 90% of life on Earth lives in the ocean. The average temperature of the ocean is 39 degrees F.
What is the oldest biome on Earth? ›
Rainforests are Earth's oldest living ecosystems, with some surviving in their present form for at least 70 million years.Are there 10 biomes? ›
Ecologists recognize at least ten different biomes. The world's major land biomes include tropical rain forest, tropical dry forest, tropical savanna, desert, temperate grassland, temperate woodland and shrubland, temperate forest, northwestern coniferous forest, boreal forest, and tundra.What is a biome answer key? ›
What is a Biome? Biomes are large regions characterized by a specific type of climate and certain types of plant and animal communities. The climate and geography of a region determines what type of biome can exist in that region. Each biome is made up of many individual ecosystems.What biome covers most of Africa? ›
These biomes are dominated by a mix of grasses and small trees. Savannas cover 60% of Africa and represent a transition from tropical forests to deserts. Trees in savannas are usually drought deciduous.
Ecologists recognize at least ten different biomes. The world's major land biomes include tropical rain forest, tropical dry forest, tropical savanna, desert, temperate grassland, temperate woodland and shrubland, temperate forest, northwestern coniferous forest, boreal forest, and tundra.How many main biomes does Africa have? ›
They are distinguished by characteristic temperatures and amount of precipitation. This map shows the geographic distribution of the eleven major terrestrial biomes found in Africa (out of 14 worldwide). It shows that the same biome can occur in geographically distinct areas with similar climates.What biome is most important? ›
Aquatic biomes are probably the most important of all the biomes. Their medium, water, is a major natural resource. Water is the basis of life, it supports life, and countless species live in it for all or part of their lives. Freshwater biomes supply us with our drinking water and water for crop irrigation.Why does South Africa have so many biomes? ›
The combination of climate and topography give rise to broad vegetation zones in the country, and together with their associated animal life they form diverse areas we refer to as South Africa's biomes.Which biome is also known as the Bushveld? ›
|Biome||tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands|
Savanna Biome dominates the African continent and covers 54% of southern Africa (Scholes, 1997;Rutherford et al., 2006, Fig. 1).
What are the three main biomes of Africa? ›
Highlights. Three biomes were identified based on their major growth forms: savannas, 'thickets' and forest. Different species assemblages occurred in each biome.