Ecology of the Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy

This post has been written with the aim of trying to provide visitors to this website a taste of the sometimes intricate interrelationships that exist within the natural world that is the Lower Mpushini Valley.

The landowners, residents and visitors to the Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy, are tasked with a huge challenge. They have to ensure that future generations will have the same natural resources at their disposal that they have inherited. South Africa’s constitution states that all citizens are entitled to live in a healthy environment. A healthy environment is more than just clean air and water; it is an environment that can sustainably support life – all life forms. A healthy and sustainable environment doesn’t appear from nowhere. It can’t be created or maintained simply by cleaning up the litter from our rivers and lands. A healthy environment is created and driven by intact, healthy ecosystems and natural processes – and these have to be protected.

Biological diversity is the real driving force of any life-sustaining environment. The protection of this biodiversity therefore directly benefits humans and all living organisms within that ecosystem. Sustainable living includes biodiversity conservation which cannot be limited to fenced-off areas. Most biodiversity occurs and operates beyond the boundaries of proclaimed protected areas.

A number of years ago several property owners applied to have their properties proclaimed as “Protected Environments” in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003. These properties were inspected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and in February 2011 their properties were officially proclaimed as a Protected Environment in the KZN Provincial Gazette.

The Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy consists of three main ecotypes. These are the Valley Bushveld proper that occurs in the river valleys and drainage ravines, the Coastal Hinterland Thornveld and Savanna Grasslands. All three of these ecotypes are in dire need of some form of conservation, threatened as they are by farming activities and urban residential development in the form of urban sprawl . Both of these activities destroy or severely damage the sensitive ecosystems that occur in these regions. However, old agricultural lands can be restored to some of their form biological states provided that the management is based on ecological concepts such as natural succession, the ecology of colonisation and regenerative farming techniques without the use of any herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

The ecology of the Lower Mpushini Valley has evolved over many decades and has now reached a climax state.

A mature ecosystem obtains its nutrients and minerals from its own dead matter. All of the nutrients in dead plants, leaves, bark and animals are recycled by the microbes in the soil, from where they become available as nutrients for plants to take up. In our area invertebrates such as millipedes, earthworms and other creatures do much of the recycling, because they consume a lot of the small detritus. These creatures therefore perform one of the most important functions in the in the life processes of our ecosystems.

As an ecosystem evolves so too does the invertebrate community. Although ecological theory dictates that very similar species cannot exist within the same niche, approximately 10 to 14 different species of millipedes happily coexist within the bushveld ecosystem of the Lower Mpushini Valley. These species, with the exception of the pill millipedes, are very similar in size, appearance and habits.

Apart from the millipedes mentioned above, a number of invertebrate groups are important players in the functioning of the ecosystems. These are the beetles (Coleoptera), spiders (Arachnida), dung beetles (Coleoptera and Scarabaeidae), and millions of microscopic soil organisms. There are literally hundreds of beetle, spider and dung beetle species in the valley, all performing essential functions in the food-chain web.