Wetlands share common and important functions in river catchments by providing a regular water supply, by filtering the water naturally, by reducing the effects of floods and droughts, and by providing a vital wildlife habitat and superb recreational areas for people.
Most wetlands are characterised by a high water table, water-carrying soil and hydrophytes (water-loving plants), but in semi-arid Southern Africa there are numerous pans that support few if any hydrophytes and that may contain shallow water only once in five or more years.
Wetlands play an important role in maintaining biodiversity since they support an extraordinary variety of plant and birdlife e.g. the red bishop (Euplectes orix), the South African shelduck (Tadorna cana), insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, e.g. the striped stream frog (Strongylopus fasciatus), fish and invertebrate species.
Wetland plants such as the bulrush (Typha capensis), play an important role in the healthy functioning of a wetland ecosystem by generating organic matter, the primary element for any foodweb. They also provide the soil and water with oxygen, prevent erosion and serve as a filter that purifies the water.
Lekker Links
South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Biomes.
Forests; Fynbos; Grasslands; Nama-Karoo; Savannas; Succulent Karoo.
Coastal & marine.
These plants provide food, shelter and breeding sites for many birds and aquatic animals such as the hippopotamus. Attractive plant species such as the arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and the red-hot poker (Kniphofia caulescens) are common to wetlands.
Wetlands are likely to occur in the catchment of all river systems in South Africa, but their form and abundance vary considerably owing to regional differences in topography, climate, vegetation, soil, land use and hydrological conditions. South African wetlands, being at the southern tip of the continent, host a number of endemic and highly isolated bird species, e.g. the Cape shoveller (Anas smithii).
A number of paleoarctic migrants visit Southern African wetlands during the northern hemisphere’s winter, some of which come all the way from the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia (a distance of approximately 15 000 km). South Africa extends into the tropics, providing the southern limits to a number of tropical species such as the pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens), the rufous-bellied heron (Butorides rufiventris), the dwarf bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii), the open-billed stork (Anastomus lamelligerus) and the pygmy goose (Nettapus auritus).
(Source: South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism)

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