Focus of our work

Do you know about all the science that goes on behind the scenes at SANBI?

South African National Biodiversity Institute's (SANBI) mandate, when it was established in 2004, required it to extend the focus of the precursor National Botanical Institute from just plants to include all aspects of biodiversity. Therefore, in addition to managing the National Botanical and Zoological Gardens, SANBI plays a leadership role in generating, co-ordinating and interpreting the knowledge and evidence required to support policies and decisions relating to all aspects of biodiversity.

As you can see from the diagram, our science forms part a value chain that starts with very basic information on biodiversity and builds on these foundations with assessments, experiments, models and tools. In this way we influence policy makers and contribute to government’s higher objectives of poverty alleviation, job creation and improving human wellbeing.

Foundations of Biodiversity

Our work starts with a strong foundation of surveying, classifying and mapping South Africa’s ecosystems and species. We answer questions like: What is out there? How should it be classified and named? How many are there? Where are they located? SANBI’s herbaria, DNA bank, Millennium Seed Bank, and the National Vegetation Map are some examples of this foundational work.

Building Biodiversity Knowledge

We build on this foundation, through assessments and monitoring, to answer questions about the status of our biodiversity, and the best ways to protect it and its benefits to society. Units such as molecular ecology, population ecology, ecosystem services, invasive species, threatened species, climate change, and sustainable wildlife trade fall into this category.

Science into Policy and Action

Using this knowledge we translate science into policy and action by creating tools and information resources, and giving policy advice that then assists those who make decisions about land use and natural resources while aiming for objectives such as poverty alleviation, job creation and improved human wellbeing. How can we develop our economy without losing natural resources? How can biodiversity help us adapt to climate change? What ecological infrastructure is needed for ecosystem services? How can biodiversity contribute to our dire need for jobs in South Africa?

Various SANBI programmes and units undertake this important work, including the various bioregional programmes under mainstreaming biodiversity, SANBI’s Biodiversity Policy Advice unit, and the Scientific Authority.

Some programmes and projects traverse the entire value chain. The National Biodiversity Assessment is an example of a key output on the state of South Africa’s biodiversity based on best-available science. The Karoo BioGaps Project is an excellent example of foundational biodiversity information being collated into knowledge on threatened species and habitats, and ultimately then informing development decision-making.

All SANBI’s science work is underpinned by vital information management systems, and we strive to build human capital development in the biodiversity sector while undertaking our work.

Many different units and programmes fall under the Biodiversity Science banner at SANBI. Please use the search function or mouse over the menu on the left to find the unit or programme you are looking for.

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