Temporary wetlands are an ecologically and economically important habitat in South Africa. They harbor large branchiopods, known to be flagship species of nonpermanent aquatic habitats, and sensitive to land use changes. In this study we review the current status of large branchiopods in the Western Cape, a South African province subject to increasing agriculture and urbanization. We studied the species diversity and distribution of large branchiopods by sampling 58 temporary wetlands in an area covering about 30% of the Western Cape. Information obtained from field samples was supplemented by incubating resting egg banks from the sampled wetlands. Our data were compared with all known distribution records for large branchiopods in the target region. Based on this combined information, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List category was assessed for each species. Four of the eight large branchiopod species known to occur in the sampling area were collected. Of all wetlands sampled, 40% harbored large branchiopods. Most anostracan populations were small, and species co-occurred in only one wetland. From the entire Western Cape, 14 species have been recorded in the past. Two of these are already included in the IUCN Red List. Insufficient data are available to determine the IUCN Red Data Category of six other species. A large variation in the telsonic appendages of S. dendyi was found across the studied area. In view of possible ongoing speciation and subsequent radiation, individual populations need protection. Since little information is available, it is difficult to evaluate recent changes in the conservation status of large branchiopods. Their populations are currently very low and have probably diminished in the last few decades. More knowledge about the functioning of temporary systems is needed to manage these vulnerable habitats and conserve their threatened species.
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Vol. 27 • No. 1