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What is Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BCB)


Biodiversity is the variety of forms of living organisms at various levels. Often we use species as one measure but it also includes the variety (genetic composition) within a species or even a population of organisms as well as at the ecosystem level.


We have some 26 000 plant species and varieties in South Africa of which 80% occur nowhere else in the World – this is the highest for any temperate area.


Some of this Biodiversity is at risk such as the African Penguin whose existence has become threatened through over-fishing & pollution.


Only 3% of West Coast Renosterveld vegetation type exists now, all the rest has been ploughed for wheat fields or been cultivated or invaded by alien species.



This is a Cape Sand Frog that is found from Namaqualand, along the coastal plain to Cape Town, then eastwards to just beyond Port Elizabeth. We are studying this species to document its genetic variation


Why is Biodiversity Relevant?


Biodiversity is a good indicator of the health of our environment.  With a loss of species, environmental problems appear, e.g. the use of insecticides also kills pollinators of our fruit crops, e.g. bees.  Bees are species, which if they become locally extinct can cause a cascade of other extinctions – these are Keystone Species.


A good starting point is to classify and name each organism – this is called Taxonomy. Previously much use was made of anatomical features, but increasingly we use genetic techniques to describe species.  But of course there is a large amount of field work that is done which includes sampling and mapping the distribution of organisms and describing the impacts that humans have on their environment.

Why is Conservation Relevant


10.jpgConservation Biology is really all about providing solutions to many of the world’s environmental problems, and correcting past mistakes through applying restoration projects.  Conservation Planning is also becoming an important study and uses technology called Geographical Information Systems.  The BCB department is well equipped to do this research and designs and hosts large web-based information systems for Organizations such as the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, the Global Invasive Species Programme, and many more.


To Summarize...

Biodiversity is the variety of forms of living organisms at various levels and Conservation Biology is the study of how we can prevent species and habitats being lost while still maintaining sustainable human societies.

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