Target 3: Information


Information, research and associated outputs, and methods necessary to implement the strategy developed and shared

Contributors: D. Raimondo, E. van Wyk, H. Steyn, B. Bytebier, A.P. Dold, T. Trinder-Smith & J.E. Victor.


South Africa is fortunate among megadiverse countries to have a disproportionably high level of capacity in terms of taxonomic expertise and field botanists. The majority of the flora has received taxonomic treatment with 62% of plant taxa having been revised since 1970 (Von Staden et al. 2013). In addition, a network of 20 local herbaria across the country house a representative sample of plant specimens, with the majority of specimens (90% of the country’s ± 3 263 200 plant specimens) concentrated in only six herbaria: the Bolus Herbarium (BOL); the Selmar Schönland Herbarium (GRA); the Compton Herbarium (NBG); the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium (NH); the BEWS herbarium (NU); and the National Herbarium (PRE) (National Research Foundation [NRF] 2011).

Good electronic data in the form of digitised herbarium specimens and spatial layers for vegetation classification and national land use exist (Mucina & Rutherford 2006) and 44% of South Africa’s plant specimens have been electronically encoded (NRF 2011). Most of these specimens are georeferenced to at least a quarter-degree square grid. This richness of taxonomic literature, electronic specimen and land-use data, combined with expert knowledge, has enabled South Africa to make good progress towards achieving a number of the targets included in this strategy. Despite this situation, a number of information gaps remain. Botanists involved in the development of this strategy have identified four key information needs; these are detailed below. In addition, a number of other research priorities have been identified during the development of this strategy. These have been included under the relevant targets and are not repeated here.

3.1.      Centralising plant occurrence data

Electronic occurrence data underpin conservation assessment and planning work in South Africa. Currently records are scattered amongst different institutions. For example herbarium specimen records that have been encoded and georeferenced are managed by individual herbaria. Only 44% of South Africa’s specimens have been encoded (National Research Foundation [NRF] 2011), with important regional collections not yet digitised. Each of South Africa’s provincial conservation agencies manages independent species occurrence datasets with a number having good records for plants. Atlasing programmes, such as the Protea Atlas Project and the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme, have, through the contribution of citizen scientists, provided thousands of recent and accurate plant occurrence records. Centralising these datasets is a priority both to improve conservation assessments (Target 2) and conservation planning (Target 7), and to facilitate effective species monitoring. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has the mandate to manage and serve biodiversity information and will collaborate with herbaria and provincial authorities to facilitate this information sharing.

3.2.      Monitoring plant taxa of conservation concern

One in every four plants in South Africa is of conservation concern (plants that are either rare, range-restricted taxa or taxa that qualify as Threatened or Near Threatened under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria). Many of these taxa, particularly those under threat, require monitoring; this work is undertaken by a network of citizen scientists working under the supervision of SANBI and the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc), as part of the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme. Additional monitoring work, especially within protected areas, is undertaken by the South African National Parks (SANParks) and the provincial conservation agencies. Ongoing field monitoring of populations of taxa of conservation concern is required in order to accurately assess their conservation status as well as to report on trends in plant species status. Between 2015 and 2020, provincial conservation authorities and South Africa’s Scientific Authority will focus on developing processes to monitor plant species listed on South Africa’s Threatened and Protected Species List of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), Act No. 10 of 2004.

3.3.      Under-sampled areas the focus for plant collecting

A number of areas in South Africa remain poorly explored botanically. These areas (see Figure 11) are concentrated in the western interior of the country within the Nama Karoo biome; quarter-degree square areas within this biome that have never been sampled need to be surveyed. Other priority areas are deep rural regions in the eastern parts of the country, particularly areas formally designated as homelands. The former Transkei and Ciskei regions of the Eastern Cape are particularly poorly explored and are top priority for future botanical collecting. The escarpment edge, including the southern Drakensberg foothills, is also of collection priority.

3.4.      Taxonomic revisions of priority genera produced

Taxonomic revisions, monographs and floras are the most important, and often the only, source of data for assessing the conservation status of plants (Target 2). Conservation assessments form the basis upon which much of the rest of this plant strategy is based. A study conducted by Von Staden et al. (2013) identified taxonomic research priorities for the conservation of South Africa’s plants. Priorities were identified at the genus level based on an analysis combining time since last revision, level of endemism, collecting effort, proportion of taxa included in revisions, and specimen identification confidence. Results indicate that only 62% of the flora has been recently revised. The family Aizoaceae is the top priority for taxonomic research with 55% of taxa in need of revision, followed by Hyacinthaceae with 34% of taxa not yet revised. Ericaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Rutaceae, Malvaceae, Asteraceae and Acanthaceae are priorities with over 30% of taxa last revised prior to 1970. An earlier study by Victor & Smith (2011) that identified priority families for taxonomic attention also identified the family Aizoaceae as being the highest priority for revisionary work. A strategy for biosystematics research led by SANBI has further prioritised genera identified by Von Staden et al. (2013) and a priority list of genera in need of revision is produced and annually updated. This list, available on SANBI’s website (, includes information on which taxonomists are working on revisions of priority genera.

Target 3 outcomes for 2020

3.1.     Information on plant occurrences from herbaria, provincial conservation agencies and atlasing projects centralised, quality checked were feasible, and made available via a single portal.

3.2.     Plant taxa of conservation concern monitored.

3.3.     Under-sampled areas targeted for surveys.

3.4.     Taxonomic revisions of priority genera produced.

Target 3: Information, research and associated outputs, and methods necessary to implement the strategy, developed and shared
Outcomes Activities Responsible stakeholders Timeframe
3.1. Information on plant occurrences from herbaria, provincial conservation agencies and atlasing projects, centralised, quality checked were feasible and made available via a single portal. 3.1.1. 50% of specimens from South Africa’s six largest herbaria (PRE, NBG, NH, NU, GRA, BOL) encoded, using the BRAHMS database. 3.1.1. Herbarium staff at PRE, NBG,NH,NU,GRA and BOL. 3.1.1. 2020
3.1.2. Data-sharing agreements in place with provincial conservation agencies and non-SANBI herbaria. 3.1.2. SANBI Monitoring and Assessment group. 3.1.2. 2016
3.1.3. Data quality checked where feasible and errors reported to responsible institution. 3.1.3. SANBI. 3.1.3. 2015–2020
3.1.4. All occurrence records centralised and served as part of South Africa’s e-Flora. 3.1.4. SANBI’s Biodiversity Information Management. 3.1.4. 2020

3.2. Plant taxa of conservation concern monitored.


3.2.1. Populations of taxa of conservation concern monitored throughout South Africa, focusing on areas of high concentration of threatened taxa. 3.2.1. CREW network, provincial conservation agencies. 3.2.1. 2015–2020
3.2.2. Species listed on the Threatened and Protected Species List of NEMBA monitored. 3.2.2. Scientific Authority and provincial conservation agencies. 3.2.2. 2015–2020
3.2.3. Trends in the status of plant species reported in the National Biodiversity Assessment. 3.2.3. SANBI. 3.2.3. 2018

3.3. Under-sampled areas targeted for surveys.


3.3.1. All under-collected quarter degree squares in the Nama Karoo have been botanically sampled. 3.3.1. SANBI Biosystematics & Collections. 3.3.1. 2015–2020
3.3.2. Botanical surveys conducted in the former Ciskei and Transkei regions of the Eastern Cape. 3.3.2. CREW Eastern Cape node, and SANBI Biosystematics & Collections. 3.3.2. 2015–2020
3.3.3. Botanical surveys conducted along the escarpment edge including the southern Drakensberg foothills. 3.3.3. CREW Eastern Cape node, and SANBI Biosystematics & Collections. 3.3.3. 2015–2020
3.4. Taxonomic revisions of priority genera produced. 3.4. Revisions are conducted on genera identified as priorities by the National Biosystematics Research Strategy and Von Staden et al. (2013). 3.4. Biosystematics researchers based at universities or in South Africa’s herbaria. 3.4. 2015–2020