The Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences has received almost R4.5m from the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FPIB) for biodiversity research across multiple institutions and disciplines. The funding is for three years.
According to Professor Nigel Barker, Head of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Principal Investigator (PI) of this research project, it will document South Africa's biodiversity. The project will focus on the Waterberg Mountain Complex (WMC), providing specimen records, genetic information, databases, etc.
“To put it simply, we intend to survey and sample plants, insects, fish and other aquatic organisms, bats, spiders, small mammals, snakes, frogs etc.”
The Waterberg Mountain Complex is a discrete geological entity situated in the Limpopo Province. Previously a largely agricultural area, there have been considerable changes in land use to conservation and eco-tourism activities, and one third of the region has been declared a UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (WBR). “In addition, Marakele National Park is also situated in the WMC and is part of the WBR, as are some of the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism reserves. While thus enjoying some environmental protection, proposed coal mines and related infrastructure projects on the northern borders of this area represent a major potential environmental conflict and will impact the ecological integrity of the WMC,” Prof Barker explained.
He said even though the WMC is a region of special conservation concern, there has never been a comprehensive and structured biodiversity survey of the region despite its relative closeness to Pretoria, where there is a hub of plant and animal biodiversity scientists, and that it includes a large part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.
"We want to have as detailed an understanding of what organisms are found in these mountains, which will provide much-needed data and information for the management of the various Waterberg conservation areas and bordering regions,” he said, adding that the data generated through the project will support numerous stakeholders' conservation and management activities in the region. “In addition, this information will feed into climate change studies."
Prof Barker concluded, saying: "What makes this project special is that there is funding included for citizen science and community engagement activities, and we anticipate being able to collaborate with local environmental education NGOs and have workshops for teachers from the local schools, interested Grade 12 learners, etc."