South Africa is one of the world centres for cycad diversity. With 39 species of cycad, it ranks third, behind Australia and Mexico, for the countries with the highest numbers of cycads. Two species from southern Africa are extinct in the wild (Encephalatos woodii, shown above, being one of them) and all but one of the remaining South African cycads are believed to be threatened with extinction. Cycads are therefore one of the most threatened groups of plants in South Africa. They are also well known to gardeners and are an ideal flagship group to highlight the problems facing plants in South Africa.
Research over the past ten years has focussed on important aspects of cycad biology including pollination, recruitment, and aspects of their life histories related to reproduction and survival. Among the outcomes of this research have been two papers that showed unequivocally that insects were the most effective pollinators of two African cycads.
Research, using matched photographs, has also shown how cycad populations have declined over a period of several decades, and has helped to confirm the main causes of threat, i.e. collecting of mature plants from the wild and habitat destruction.
Current research is aimed at developing population models to guide conservation actions and on techniques for the restoration of cycad populations in the wild.
In addition to research, policy development is an important component of the cycad project. Within South Africa, we contribute to the development of national and provincial policy. John Donaldson is also chairperson of the IUCN Cycad Specialist Group which comprises an internationl group of scientists, conservationists, and nurserymen who provide expert advice on cycad conservation and trade. One of the main tasks of the group is to develop an Action Plan and this is due for completion early in 2000.