• Cape Floristic Region;
  • edaphic specialization;
  • endemism;
  • extinction;
  • fynbos;
  • speciation

Taxonomic, edaphic and biological aspects of endemism were studied in a phanerogamous flora from the Agulhas Plain, a coastal lowland area of the Cape Floristic Region. Of the 1751 species in the flora, 23.6% were regional endemics and 5.7% were local endemics. Families which were over-represented in terms of endemics included the Ericaceae, Rutaceae, Proteaceae and Polygalaceae. Under-represented families included the Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Orchidaceae. Highest levels of local endemism were recorded on limestone and colluvial acid sand. Sixty-nine percent of regional endemics and 85% of local endemics were confined to a single substratum. An analysis of the frequency of biological traits associated with species with different categories of endemism enabled the establishment of a biological profile of a local endemic: a dwarf to low, non-sprouting shrub with soil stored seeds which are ant-dispersed and/or form a symbiotic relationship with microbes. It is argued that lineages with these characteristics are vulnerable to severe population reduction or even local extinction. An effect of this would be the promotion of rapid, edaphic speciation as a result of catastrophic selection. Thus, certain traits (e.g. non-sprouting) prevail or even predominate in the flora not because of any adaptive advantage but because high speciation rates of lineages which possess them, overwhelm low survival rates.