We hope that you enjoy your visit to our site, as this is not your average website. Aside from the usual information about our department, its research and programmes, we also have several useful links of interest. Come back often and explore!
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 and 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.
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 what are known as 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 are beginning to use genetic techniques to describe species. But of course, there is a large amount of field work that needs to be done, which includes sampling and mapping the distribution of organisms and describing the impacts that humans have on their environment.
Why is Conservation RelevantConservation 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 organisations such as the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, the Global Invasive Species Programme, and many more.
Basically, to summarise, 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.