Post-apartheid ecologies in the City of Cape Town: An examination of plant functional traits in relation to urban gradients

Pippin Anderson, Tristan Charles-Dominique, Henrik Ernstson, Erik Andersson, Julie Goodness

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In this study we explore species richness and traits across two urban gradients in the City of Cape Town. The first is the natural-urban boundary and the second is a socio-economic gradient informed by historical race-based apartheid planning. Plant species and cover were recorded in 156 plots sampled from conservation areas, private gardens, and public open green space. The socio-economic gradient transitioned from wealthier, predominantly white neighbourhoods to poorer, predominantly black neighbourhoods. The socio-economic gradient was selected to fall within one original vegetation type to ensure a consistent biophysical template. There is a marked shift between the natural and urban plant communities in the City of Cape Town, with little structural affinity. Urban landscapes are dominated by grass, with low diversity compared to natural counterparts. A significant ecological gradient of reduced biodiversity, traits, and in turn functionality, was found across the socio-economic gradient. Wealthier communities benefit from more private green space, more public green space, and a greater plant diversity. Poorer communities have limited green space on all fronts, and lower plant and trait diversity. Plant communities with limited diversity are less resilient and if exposed to environmental perturbation would lose species, and associated ecosystem services faster than a species rich community. These species-poor plant communities mirror historical apartheid planning that is resistant to change. Based on how biodiversity, functionality, and associated ecosystem services and ecosystem stability are linked, the results of this study suggests how significant environmental injustice persists in the City of Cape Town.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103662
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Early online date14 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


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