Conservation Biology Research

[Projects] [Policy] [Staff]
South Africa has an exceptional flora with over 23 000 plant species, but it also has the more ominous distinction that it has more than 2 000 plant species threatened with extinction, ranking third behind the USA and Australia for countries with the highest number of threatened plants (1997 IUCN List of Threatened Plants). Part of the mission of the NBI is to promote the conservation and sustainable utilisation of plant diversity in South Africa and the Conservation Biology programme has been set up to provide the research skills and knowledge needed to answer critical questions relating to the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous plants. The research programme operates in four key areas, i.e. advances in conservation science, policy development, conservation planning, and the provision of information on threatened plants and threatening processes. Research projects range from those that explore experimental or theoretical aspects of conservation science, to those that will result in a very specific product such as the new vegetation map of South Africa.

Research Projects

Protea Atlas Project

A ten year project involving amateurs to atlas all the Proteaceae in southern Africa. In addition to its educational value, the project now has the most comprehensive database for any group of plants in Africa. This project has an extensive web site which provides a range of information on the proteaceae.

Conservation farming

A GEF sponsored project to evaluate the ecological and economic costs and benefits of different farming practices. Conservation outside reserves, and the contribution of biodiversity to sustainable agriculture are important components of this project.

Threatened plants of Southern Africa

A project focussing on the status and distribution of threatened plants and co-ordinating inputs for the RED DATA LIST database. The project is now also starting to answer questions relating to why South African plants seem to be so prone to extinction.

Cycad Conservation

Cycads are one of the most threatened groups of plants in South Africa. The project looks at various aspects of cycad biology and tests key questions in the conservation of long-lived perennial plants. Policy development, especially in terms of CITES also forms an important part of this project.


A project to develop a new vegetation map for southern Africa based on the best available vegetation data and involving most of the country's active vegetation scientists.

Policy development

The main contribution of the Conservation Biology programme has been in the following areas.

· Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity

· Implementation of CITES, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora.

· Development of policies for threatened plants both nationally and in the provinces


John Donaldson (PhD 1991, University of Cape Town)
Janet Allsopp (MSc 1998, University of Cape Town)
J. DeWet Bösenberg (BSc Hons. University of Stellenbosch)
Luthfia Cader
Val Charlton
Ismail Ebrahim
Steve Higgins (PhD 1998, University of Cape Town)
Edward Jacobs
Dave McDonald (PhD 1993, University of Cape Town)
Ingrid Nänni (BSc University of Natal)
Tony Rebelo (PhD 1992, University of Cape Town)
Students: Patricia Mokoena (BSc Hons, Fort Hare University)

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