project overview

Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (2006)

The descriptions for each of the 440 vegtation types from Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are available from the BGIS online mapping system as pdfs - instructions.

Southern Africa -- defined as South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland -- has a rich store of natural resources that are a valuable asset for the people of the subcontinent. One of the most important resources is the natural vegetation. Apart from this part of Africa being a region of high biodiversity including more than 24 000 plant taxa, the vegetation is directly or indirectly an important source of food and fuel for the majority of the inhabitants.

These resources therefore need careful conservation and management that will only be possible if the resources are well documented. The process of documenting the natural vegetation of southern Africa has been in progress since the late 1800s, but most of the studies have been uncoordinated with others on a national scale. With impact on the natural resources of southern Africa increasing rapidly through human population pressure and climatic events such as drought, there was an urgent need for a coordinated effort to classify and map the vegetation of southern Africa.

History of vegetation studies in southern Africa

Historically the most notable study of the vegetation of southern Africa was the work of J.P.H. Acocks. His initiatives in the 1940s and 1950s to document and map the vegetation of South Africa had a significant effect on ecology in the country. Acocks' classification, known as Veld Types of South Africa, soon became the standard reference by which ecologists, farmers and other students of natural systems referred to the indigenous vegetation of South Africa. For more about Acocks' veld types see here. Despite the value of Acocks' Veld Types, it has nevertheless remained unchanged since it was first published about fifty years ago. Therefore an up-to-date appraisal of the vegetation of southern Africa was needed. As an interim measure in 1992, a group of South African botanists, under the auspices of the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) initiated the production of a revised vegetation map of South Africa based on vegetation structure and species composition. The 'SAAB Map' with its accompanying booklet was published in 1996. The map and booklet were aimed at filling the particular need of schools and tertiary education institutions for information on southern African vegetation.

VEGMAP - a new initiative

A collaborative initiative entitled the National Vegetation Map of South Africa Project, or VEGMAP, has now produced a definitive map of the vegetation of southern Africa. Funded by a generous donation from the Environmental Agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Kingdom of Norway through the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (NORAD/DEAT) the project was managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and was targeted for completion by the end of 2006. The VEGMAP is not a revision of Acocks' 'Veld Types' but an entirely new project, the aims of which were:

(i) To determine the variation in, and units of southern African vegetation based on the analysis and synthesis of data from vegetation studies throughout the region.

(ii) To compile a vegetation map. The map was to accurately reflect the distribution and variation in the vegetation and indicate the relationship of the vegetation with the environment. For this reason the collective expertise of vegetation scientists from universities and state departments were harnessed to make the project as comprehensive as possible.