The vegetation is dominated by dwarf, succulent shrubs, of which the Vygies (Mesembryanthemaceae) and Stonecrops (Crassulaceae) are particularly prominent. Mass flowering displays of annuals (mainly Daisies - Asteraceae) occur in spring, often on degraded or fallow lands. Grasses are rare, except in some sandy areas, and are of the C3 type. The number of plant species mostly succulents - is very high and unparalleled elsewhere in the world for an arid area of this size. The bulb flora is also extremely rich.
Little data are available for the fauna of the Succulent Karoo. Of importance in the area are "heuweltjies", raised mounds of calcium-rich soil, thought to have been created by termites. These often support distinctive plant communities. The area is a known centre of richness and speciation in solitary bees (including Oil Bees (Melittidae)), scorpions and Monkey Beetles (Hopliinae).
The area has little agricultural potential due to the lack of water. The paucity of grasses limits grazing, and the low carrying capacity requires extensive supplementary feeds. Much soil has been lost from the biome, through sheet erosion, as a consequence of nearly 200 years of grazing. Ostrich farming, with considerable supplementary feeding, is practised in the Little Karoo in the south of the biome. In areas adjoining the Fynbos Biome, wine grapes, fruit and other crops are cultivated using the Fynbos water catchments. Tourism is a major industry: both the coastal scenery and the spring mass flower displays are draw cards. Mining is important, especially in the north.
Less than 0.5% of the area of the Succulent Karoo Biome has been formally conserved. The biome has a high number of rare and Red Data Book plant species. The high species richness and unique global status of the biome require urgent conservation attention. Fortunately, there, are few invasive alien plants, with only RooikransAcacia cyclops a major problem in the southern coastal regions. Strip-mining for diamonds is destructive in the northern coastal regions, and legislation requiring revegetation of these areas is inadequate for near-desert conditions.
It has been proposed that the two very species rich and endemic biomes (Succulent Karoo and Fynbos) be amalgamated into a super-biome: the Winter-rainfall Biome. The logic is that during wet phases the Fynbos expands and the Succulent Karoo fragments and speciates, and during dry phases the Fynbos fragments and speciates and the Succulent Karoo expands. This cycle has driven species formation in the region, and with the lack of glaciations or extreme climatic changes historically no major extinction spasms have occurred.