SA's biodiversity to be protected by new R50m digital SANBI facility

2017-11-17 11:30 - Unathi Nkanjeni
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Cape Town - The South African National Biodiversity Institution (SANBI) has announced the launch of s Natural Science Collection Facility (NSCF), set to host a virtual safeguard of South Africa's mega biodiversity - built up over more than 200 years.

The facility aims to see over 30 million of the country's biodiversity specimen from more than 40 museums, science councils and universities organised under this  single digital, coordinating hub.

SANBI confirms it will include SA's preserved plant, animal and fossil specimens of reptiles and insects and maps showing priority biodiversity areas to guide development and priority areas for conservation.

Data associated with the specimens are used for modelling climate change impacts on economically important species' distributions, timing ecologically important events such as pollination, and spatial planning that informs decision-making for sustainable development.

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SANBI says these natural science collections present economic and scientific opportunities and are used by researchers all over the world as well as are essential as a reference for accurately identifying materials for bio-prospecting and agriculture. 

In addition, they can be used to track pathways for the spread of diseases and pests, and to analyse movements of animal species, which is especially relevant for sustaining biodiversity-based industries such as fishing, says the institution.

Receiving funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), SANBI says DST will spend more than R50 million over the next three years to establish the virtual facility. 

"Access to adequate and relevant research infrastructure is essential for promoting quality outcomes and research, so as to develop a competitive and sustainable National System of Innovation," says DST Chief Director for Basic Sciences and Infrastructure, Daniel Adams, adding that adequate levels of funding for such infrastructure formed a key component of any national research system.

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SANBI says an assessment showed that while there were pockets of excellence, the collections were under-resourced and not used to their full potential, with many of them being at risk of loss.

Therefore, the NSCF will see the collections housed in a virtual facility with the central coordinating hub based at the SANBI.

According to the project leader, Michelle Hamer, Director of Zoological Systematics at SANBI, the different institutions, and even collections within single institutions, operate largely in isolation.

"Establishing the NSCF would address these problems with a number of collections at different institutions that work towards a common set of goals and targets and produce coordinated outputs," says Hamer.

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The NSCF, according to SANBI, will secure the collections through the development of national standards and policies for curation and interventions, improve access to collections by providing a single entry point to the specimens and services associated with them, and digitise images of specimen collection databases.

The facility will also coordinate strategic research based on priority questions and research, says SANBI.

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