Annual Review

Chairman's Report
HR & Finance



Research and Scientific Services


Delegates to GTI workshop

Global Taxonomy Initiative

The Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI) Africa Regional Workshop was held at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa, from 27 February to 1 March 2001. The Workshop was hosted by the National Botanical Institute of South Africa, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with funding from the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency.

The Workshop was attended by a total of 43 delegates, representing 32 countries (23 African) and 36 institutions or organisations. Of these, 21 delegates from as many African countries were sponsored to attend the Workshop. In addition, no less than 13 delegates from Northern institutions attended the Workshop. This provided an excellent opportunity to forge and strengthen links for North-South collaboration. However, many existing links amongst African delegates were renewed and others initiated during the Workshop.

Several important decisions were made during the Workshop and this led to the compilation of The Kirstenbosch Declaration. This Declaration was submitted to the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Conference of the Parties of the CBD at their sixth meeting that was held in Montreal, Canada between 12-16 March 2001.

A Final Report summarising the discussions and decisions from the GTI Africa Regional Workshop is currently being compiled and will be distributed to all interested parties. An important part of this document will be the results from the first-ever taxonomic needs assessment (covering plants, animals and micro-organisms) for the African continent as a unit. This needs assessment highlights the prominent taxonomic impediment currently existing in the continent. Taxonomic capacity building is urgently needed in Africa; therefore African taxonomic institutions can benefit immensely from the Global Taxonomy Initiative.

National Herbarium

The normal activities of the National herbarium in Pretoria ran smoothly during the year under review.A total of 35 565 specimens were accessioned, 479 specimens were donated to other institutions and 730 were received as donations from partner institutions. The SABONET programme encoded 9 610 specimen records during this period. Collaborative projects included those with the Kew Millennium Seed Bank, Gondwana Alive, Bioprospecting and SECOSUD. These were all further developed and expanded during the year. The decision was taken to co-ordinate The Red Data List from Pretoria. Several Red Data training workshops were held in different parts of the country to facilitate information gathering.

Staff development programmes continued with numerous personnel being registered for higher degrees at local tertiary institutions. Staff were also well represented at international scientific conferences (Solanace conference, Netherlands; AETFAT at Meise, Belgium: Dendrological Society, Victoria, Australia; Paleobotany in China).

Research staff contributed 59 scientific publications to both local and overseas journals.

Natal Herbarium

This centre provides an important scientific and infrastructural facility for the eastern region of SA. The small, but highly motivated staff deliver on various fronts, from providing plant information services, training programmes for students from local tertiary institutions to research on the flora.
A successful Open Day and production and distribution of a colour brochure facilitated publicising the facilities and services.
The effectiveness of our work is extended by collaboration and networking with other organisations, with staff serving on several committees, e.g. BOTSOC, WESSA, IUBS (International Union of Biological Sciences), Timberwatch and Durban Botanic Gardens Education Committee.

Excellent progress was made with the computerisation of the herbarium collection. This is funded by SABONET and 8 760 specimens were computerised during the year under review. A poster "Documenting diversity: computerisation at Natal Herbarium" detailing this work was presented at the annual congress of the South African Association of Botanists.

Four plant systematics research projects are underway on Hypoxis, Eucomis, Drimia and Chironia. Findings on the challenging group Hypoxis, also known as the "African potato", were presented at the AETFAT congress in Belgium.

The highlight of the outreach activities is the Natal Herbarium Student Training Programme, now in its seventh year. It consists of a two week student training programme run twice during the year, with students coming from the Botany Departments of the Universities of Zululand and Durban-Westville. Herbarium "hands on" training courses were also given to the Owen Sithole Agricultural College and to Natal Technikon and Tech SA students.
The pilot project of the Zulu Botanical Knowledge Project gained impetus towards the second half of 2000, with the organisation of steering committee meetings, workshops and field trips.


Compton Herbarium

Mr Leslie Hill

Mr Leslie Hill, the doyen of plant conservation philanthropy in South Africa, formally opened the Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Laboratory in December 2000. He donated a further R250 000.00 to his original gift of
R1.3 million for equipping and setting up this magnificent facility. This has been completed and a research programme was initiated.

Staff at the herbarium pursued their research interests vigorously and produced 44 scientific papers which were published in peer reviewed and international journals. A major achievement was the publication by Dr Peter Goldblatt and Dr John Manning, of Cape Plants: A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa (Strelizia, 9 September 2000). This work will be a major reference source for the foreseeable future.

Another major work published was the 483-page monograph by Dr E.G.H. Oliver - Systematics of Ericeae (Ericaceae: Ericoideae) Species with indehiscent and partially indehiscent fruits. (Contributions from the Bolus Herbarium No. 19. September 2000).
The herbarium's plant identification service was used extensively by various clients and produced 3 270 plant identifications. Researchers, both local and foreign, made a total of 25 loans, amounting to 774 sheets of research material. The herbarium is a very important source of data for plant systematics research in the South African winter rainfall region and as such, is consulted by numerous researchers, both locally and from overseas.

Mary Gunn Library

This library, based at the National Herbarium in Pretoria, has maintained its level of productivity in supplying researchers as well as outside users such as lecturers, students, scholars and the general public with an on-going service. This has taken the form of 2 675 books and photocopies of articles supplied to national clients using the interlibrary loan system. A further 111 photocopies of articles were requested through international interlibrary loans and 290 books and photocopies are articles were requested nationally for use by researchers of the NBI. Modern technology has become instrumental as several of these requests were made via the Internet. Staff at the Mary Gunn library attended courses on SABINET (South African Bibliographic Network) library procedures and workshops on job description, personal skills and AIDS awareness. A total of 8 358 enquiries were handled.

Staff promoted the library at several exhibitions: Books on Wetlands and Wetland Plants in the Mary Gunn Library at the Lowveld NBG, Books on Medicinal Plants in the Mary Gunn Library at a flower show at Alkantrand, Restoration and Conservation, The Journal Exchange Programme and Computerisation. Another promotion relating to the library, was the exhibition at the SAPCON (South African Paper Conservation Conference) with Wehdemann's xylotech books.

Further activities, in addition to routine procedures at the library, included the incorporation of common names of plant families in textfiles; the keyword/plantnames/
broadterm textfiles were finalized for computerisation.

Harry Molteno Library

The year saw the library completing the integration of its on-line facilities. Another highlight for the library was the launch of the www.plantzafrica.com website by the NBI, which sees the fulfilment of a long-standing library commitment to providing on-line information about South African plants and topics related to them.

Sadly, the library discontinued offering the South African Journal of Botany as an exchange journal at the end of 2000.
This long association dated back to 1935, when one of the forerunners of the current journal was first published. The journal is now published by NISC (National Inquiry Services Centre) and severely increased costs made the decision to offer alternative publications necessary. Exchange partners now receive NBI publications or Veld & Flora.

NBI Websites

The year under review was an exciting one for the NBI websites, with two sites being launched, both of which are receiving an increasing number of hits. In April 2000, an expanded, redesigned NBI site (www.nbi.ac.za) was launched. This corporate website contains over 400 pages describing NBI facilities and activities. The site receives approximately 3 500 requests per day.

To meet the increasing demand for information about plants via the electronic media, an additional NBI site, www.plantzafrica.com, was launched in September 2000. This site, which is in its infancy, contains information about the plants and vegetation of southern Africa and is designed to meet the needs of the public as well as sectors such as horticulture, education, tourism and agriculture. By March 2001, this web site was receiving over 1 500 requests per day.

One of the main features of this site is the popular "Plant of the Week". Well-illustrated pages describing two indigenous plants and giving hints on how to grow them, are produced each week by Kirstenbosch and the Witwatersrand NBG respectively.


The NBI's Ethnobotany Unit based in Durban experienced an exciting year. Following a combined search effort with staff of the National Herbarium in Pretoria, the 'lost' seventh manuscript of the Natal Plants series was successfully relocated. This significant work, holding important ethnobotanical information, was authored by the distinguished Victorian botanist John Medley Wood, but misplaced after his death in 1915.

In collaboration with the University of Natal in Durban, rapid progress was made in identifying constituents in the bulbs of medicinal members of the southern African Hyacinthaceae, allowing ultimately for the production of a review on the chemistry, pharmacology and ethnobotany of this important family, appearing in Current Organic Chemistry. This research on natural products has been coupled to postgraduate training of students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Plant conservation issues remain a high priority for the Unit. Participation in the Commonwealth Secretariat Conference on African Medicinal Plants included a presentation given to businessmen on key conservation issues to consider when sourcing and marketing African medicinal plant material.


Sabonet meeting

The Southern African Botanical Diversity Network (SABONET) is an international project led by the National Botanical Institute aimed at upgrading facilities and strengthening the level of botanical expertise throughout the subcontinent. The project commenced in 1996.

The project aims to develop human capacity in southern African national and university herbaria and botanic gardens, thus developing a strong core of professional botanists, taxonomists, horticulturists and plant diversity specialists within the ten countries of southern Africa. Training covers the inventory, monitoring, evaluation and conservation of the botanical diversity of the region.

The project is co-funded by the USAID/IUCN-ROSA through the NETCAB (Network and Capacity Building) programme and core funding from the GEF/UNDP, with in-kind contributions from the participating institutions. The ten participating countries are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

During the past year, training courses on Database Management for both beginners and managers, as well as Environmental Impact Assessment and a Herbarium Managers' Course for senior management were conducted for staff of institutions in the participating SABONET countries. In addition, seven post-graduate students sponsored by SABONET successfully completed their studies at the end of 2000. A further 12 full-time and two part-time students are being supported at southern African universities in 2001.

A Botanical Gardens Workshop was held to initiate the botanical garden aspect of the SABONET Project. Twenty gardens from eight countries were represented at this historical event of the subcontinent. An Action Plan for Southern African Botanical Gardens was developed to guide the activities of the Southern African Botanical Gardens Network for the next couple of years - the main focus of this activity being the establishment and development of Threatened Plant Programmes in each of the participating gardens.

Through the SABONET Project, considerable progress has been made in the computerisation of southern African herbaria, with 200 000 specimens computerised in the region to date. SABONET funding is currently employing
63 people on a contract basis in the participating institutions. Eight horticulturists will also be appointed during the coming year.
Funds have continually been made available to purchase herbarium materials and equipment.

Numerous SABONET-sponsored field trips were undertaken, including national field excursions to collect data on Red Data species and to survey under-collected areas.

One of the core activities of the SABONET Project is the Southern African Plant Red Data List project, which aims to publish Red Data Lists for all the SABONET member countries. Additional funds were secured from NETCAB to fund the publication as well as national workshops. Final Red Data Lists were received from the network member-countries and are currently being edited.


Staff in the Ecology and Conservation Directorate, based at the Kirstenbosch Research Centre, were pleased with the assessment by the External Review Group for the period 1995-2000. The report of the External Review Group found that : "The research and scientific services provided by the Ecology and Conservation sub-directorate are excellent by any measure, and of the highest international standards. A remarkable amount is being accomplished with relatively modest resources and a very small staff." The major new developments in the reporting year pertain to research projects, in support of the international conventions relating to biodiversity and climate change.


The fieldwork phase for the 10-year old Protea Atlas Project came to an end, on schedule.

This brought to fruition an ambitious attempt to map all southern Africa's protea species, using volunteer "atlassers" who sent in records of protea seen in particular locations. Their records were integrated with herbarium and nature reserve records and other information to create a comprehensive database, or atlas which can be used as an accurate conservation tool by planners and environmentalists. There are 230 000 records of proteas from 55 000 localities with eight new species discovered over the period the project has been running.

The final phase will be analysis of the data, which will involve teams from South Africa and elsewhere to explore the data using sophisticated statistical models and GIS (geographical information system) software to explain the patterns of species distributions.

The new Conservation Farming project, which examines the impact of farming on biodiversity, the value of ecosystem services, the ecological and economic costs and benefits, and the spread of ideas amongst different social systems, is well underway. A number of post-graduate student projects are being supported as part of the project. The project ties in closely with the increasing interest in agricultural biodiversity and the importance of developing a policy for conserving and utilising diversity in agricultural systems.

Several mini workshops were convened within the VEGMAP project and served as important steps towards the finalisation of a new floristic based vegetation map of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. Particular attention was paid to overcoming the problem of areas with inadequate data which include, for example the Roggeveld escarpment area and Lesotho.

Climate Change

Measuring carbon dioxide exchange

In the Africa chapter of the 3rd Assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the NBI contributed sections on the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity in southern Africa, an area of concern which was not addressed in previous reports of the IPCC.

Preliminary analysis of future predicted trends in distributions, based on the Protea Atlas database, showed a range of species contraction patterns with climate change. Species limited to areas of low topographic diversity show rapid initial declines in range, while those in mountainous regions are less affected. In general, the analysis shows that the geographic ranges of Proteaceae shrink with global warming. This highlights the need for careful planning of corridors between protected areas to lessen effects on population isolation. This fine-scale and dynamic modelling thrust is now also including the role of geology in controlling species movements.

In contrast to the effects of global warming and changed water availability, changes in plant response to realistic UV-B enhancements, have been observed in only a small fraction of 20 commercially important indigenous African herbaceous, shrub and tree species. One ecotype of the subtropical tree mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane) was found to be sensitive to UV-B enhancements. These overall results point to a general insensitivity of many African species of agricultural, horticultural and pharmaceutical importance to anticipated future increases in UV-B radiation.

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