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Establishing an EMS bio-indicator protocol for South African agriculture, based on new crop case studies

Vaughn R. Swart1, Maitland T. Seaman1 & Schalk vdM. Louw2

Centre for Environmental Management, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein,
South Africa. Email ,
Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein,
South Africa. Email


The greatest threat to biodiversity in the past 50 years has been due to the habitat destruction associated with agriculture. The sustainability of an agro-ecosystem depends on the conservation of its biodiversity. Environmental management systems (EMS) are important to reduce the impact of agricultural management practices on the environment and increase its functional efficiency. The development of a robust methodology for EMS’s is thus necessary, by implementing measures of insect and vegetation biodiversity, as mechanisms to indicate the degree of disturbance of the environment.

The following case studies were conducted to pinpoint potential indicators as part of the methodology. The indicators would be of an ecological nature, with specific reference to vegetation and insects. Insects were used as indicator community since they are prevalent, have high species diversity, are easy to sample, are important in ecosystem function, provide early detection of ecological changes and respond to environmental changes faster than vertebrates. The influences of farming management practices on the biodiversity are also taken into consideration. Two sites with different vegetation types, climate and agricultural practices were chosen for the case studies (Prieska, Northern Cape – Pistachio Nuts, and Winterton, KwaZulu Natal – Kenaf). At each site, marked transects were sampled for insects and vegetation. At four different locations on site, three transects in the relevant crop and three in the surrounding environment were set 2, 10 and 50 metres from the crop border. Insect morpho-species were categorised into functional feeding groups. After analysis, patterns of similarity in the biodiversity of each transect, can be seen at the different locations, relative to the frequency and diversity of vegetation sampled. Thus aspects of ecology (edge-effect, biodiversity etc.) should indicate a relationship between communities, indicating the level of ecosystem integrity. This level of ecological integrity could be taken into consideration when adopting a quality management system such as Eurepgap. An early prototype version of the EMS protocol design will be suggested and then further streamlining is planned for the future with the aid of a workshop.

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