South African Journal of Science
On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353
The Brenton blue butterfly, Orachrysops niobe (Trimen), is critically endangered and known only from one site near Knysna in the Western Cape province of South Africa, now proclaimed as the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve (BBBR). We have explored associations between vegetation types and the presence of O. niobe's only host plant, Indigofera erecta (Thunb.), using Braun-Blanquet vegetation classification and ordination techniques as part of a broader research project at the BBBR. Positive correlations are demonstrated between the occurrence of I. erecta and certain thicket vegetation types dominated by Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus (candlewood trees). Ordinations using soil analysis and slope data have not detected significant environmental gradients influencing vegetation types. The high degree of vegetation heterogeneity at the BBBR appears to be driven in part by various disturbance histories. Historical ecological events at the site such as fire and megaherbivore impacts, and their role in sustaining the ideal habitat for I. erecta and O. niobe, are discussed. Management techniques for the BBBR such as controlled fires or the cutting of paths through the vegetation are evaluated and an optimum future management strategy is recommended. This is the most comprehensive vegetation study ever carried out at the habitat of an endangered butterfly in South Africa, and breaks new ground by using vegetation analysis to develop a well-informed management plan for conservation of this species. It has significance for the management of small sites where many such endangered butterflies occur.