Threatened Ecosystem Research

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What we do

The programme aims to assess identified threats to ecosystems including the impact of land degradation and habitat fragmentation on plant diversity in vegetation types.

SANBI has a legal mandate under the Biodiversity Act (Act no.10 of 2004) to identify threatened ecosystems. The first list of the threatened ecosystem was published in 2005 on the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment (NSBA) 2004. Five years later, National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) 2011 was published as an update of NSBA 2004. At that time, IUCN was developing its Red Listing of Ecosystem (RLE) framework approach while South Africa was refining its list of threatened ecosystems.

IUCN Red list of Ecosystem and South African classification and ecosystem threat status assessment were both developed independently and parallel to each other.  In May 2014, IUCN Council adopted version 2.0 as an official global framework for RLE, encouraging various countries to use this official framework to conduct their own ecosystem assessment and work towards achieving Target 5 of Aichi Biodiversity Target stating that by 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced. The IUCN official framework will be explored on the next NBA 2017 and the key differences and similarities will be outlined.

Where we work 

Our work involves understanding degradation processes and impacts in the Realms (terrestrial, wetland, riverine, estuarine, marine) throughout South Africa.

Reason for our programme

SANBI needs to meet its obligations under its governing Act relative to understanding and reporting on the status of threatened ecosystems in South Africa.

What we have achieved

The results of an early pilot research programme on impacts of severe land degradation on plant diversity have been published for several rangeland biomes including:

  • Rutherford, M.C., & Powrie, L.W. (2013). Impacts of heavy grazing on plant species richness: A comparison across rangeland biomes of South Africa. South African Journal of Botany87, 146-156. 
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2013.03.020
  • Rutherford, M.C., Powrie, L.W. & Husted, L.B. 2012. Plant diversity consequences of a herbivore-driven biome switch from Grassland to Nama-Karoo shrub steppe in South Africa. Applied Vegetation Science 15: 14-25.
    Doi: 10.1111/j.1654-109X.2011.01160.x 
  • Rutherford, M.C., Powrie, L.W. 2011. Can heavy grazing on communal land elevate plant species richness levels in the Grassland Biome of South Africa? Plant Ecology. 212(9):1407-1418. DOI 10.1007/s11258-011-9916-0
  • Rutherford, M.C., Powrie, L.W., 2010. Severely degraded rangeland: Implications for plant diversity from a case study in Succulent Karoo, South Africa, Journal of Arid Environments 74 (2010) 692–701. Journal of Arid Environments (2009), doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.10.013
  • Rutherford, M.C. & Powrie, L.W. 2009. Severely degraded dunes of the southern Kalahari: local extinction, persistence and natural re-establishment of plants. Afr. J. Ecol., 48, 930–938. African Journal of Ecology.
    doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2028.2009.01194.x
  • Rutherford, M.C., Powrie, L.W. and Thompson, D.I. 2012. Impacts of high utilisation pressure on biodiversity components in Colophospermum mopane savanna. African Journal of Range & Forage Science 2012, 29(1): xx–xx
    DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2012.687039
  • Rutherford, M.C., Powrie, L.W. and Husted, L.B. 2012. Herbivore-driven land degradation: consequences for plant diversity and soil in arid subtropical thicket in southeastern Africa. Land Degradation & Development.
    DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2181

Who we are

How to contact us

Address: Kirstenbosch Research Centre, P/Bag X7, Claremont 7735, RSA.
Email: Les Powrie
Tel: +27 (0)21 799 8703

Last updated on 01 November 2016
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