Ecological habitat survey of threatened species.

Objectives:

The objective of an ecological habitat survey is to assess the possible presence of threatened species. Threatened species are those species that have a high risk of becoming extinct according to the IUCN categories and criteria. Threatened species include those species (also subspecies) that are Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Other species of particular conservation concern are also included in the assessment of threatened species. These other species of conservation concern are near threatened species, distinctly rare species which are not currently threatened, declining species, data deficient species and protected species which are not currently threatened but protected owing to various reasons. Considering these species in land use management is imperative because ignorance of these will lead to fatal flaws in development planning and could lead to prosecution for not complying with the law.

Groups for which assessment of species of particular conservation concern are normally required as a minimum:

  • Plants, vegetation
  • Mammals
  • Birds (avifauna)
  • Reptiles and amphibians (herpetofauna)
  • Fish (in aquatic ecosystems)
  • Selected invertebrate groups such as butterflies and where appropriate or relevant cicadas, beetles, rock scorpions, baboon- and trapdoor spiders and any other invertebrate groups of which species of known conservation concern could be detected.

Practical considerations:

Important practical considerations for a habitat survey is that the relevant ecological consultant should use appropriate methodology, have the necessary qualifications and should have considerable field experience of habitats. Appropriate methodology depends on the size of the site, the complexity of the site, the type of possible development and overall purpose of the study. Ecological consultancy work has generally much more time constraints than research projects. This means in practice that a habitat survey is of considerable importance because of these time constraints. For example in most surveys the ecological consultant, though an appropriate time of the year is chosen in general, cannot visit a site at all the ideal times for ideal conditions to not possible presence of all the threatened species in a region. Another consideration is that even a fairly representative quantitative project can miss the small but very important habitat of a threatened species on a site. Therefore, ultimately the experience of the consultant in habitats of threatened species, weighs in very high. There is however, no substitute for site visits in any ecological assessment, and desktop surveys are groundtruthed and integrated to the results of a field survey. In some cases, the consultant, after assessing the habitats may specifically require for a certain time of a year to investigate the possible presence of a species of particular conservation concern (threatened, near threatened, declining, rare).

In so doing time could be saved, that instead of having to come back after the whole environmental impact assessment ran its course, one could have acted pro-actively as far as possible.

Ecological habitat survey of unique or threatened ecosystems.

Objectives:

Another main objective of an ecological habitat survey is to assess the possible presence of threatened or unique ecosystems. Threatened ecosystems are those ecosystems that are unique enough and at such risk of becoming extinct regionally that many of such ecosystems are protected by legislation. Other ecosystems of particular conservation importance are wetlands, which are dealt with separately, and also ecosystems with a conspicuous unique biodiversity containing highly endemic or localized species that are recognized by the expert.

Considering these special ecosystems in land use management is imperative because ignorance of these will lead to fatal flaws in development planning and not complying with the law.

Practical considerations:

Important practical considerations for a habitat survey is that the relevant ecological consultant should use appropriate methodology, have the necessary qualifications and should have considerable field experience of habitats. Appropriate methodology depends on the size of the site, the complexity of habitats at the site, the type of possible development and overall purpose of the study. Ecological consultancy work has generally much more time constraints than research projects. This means in practice that the ability to identify relatively homogenous units at a site is of considerable importance because of these time constraints. From a basis of the ecosystems initially observed more detailed investigations to assess ecosystems at a site may be prioritized for.