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Get involved in plant conservation forums in 2022
Learn about the networks that bring South Africa’s conservation practitioners, scientists and students together for knowledge sharing and biodiversity conservation
JAN 10, 2022 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. PHOTOS BY RUPERT KOOPMAN
South Africa is one of the world’s megadiverse countries and home to three different biodiversity hotspots. The country has more than 20 000 plant species, which represents around 10% of the world’s known plant species.
As custodians of this megadiversity, there are many different professionals who work to research, celebrate and conserve South Africa’s ecosystems. Many come from different academic disciplines and professional fields who need to work in partnership to share knowledge and work towards achieving conservation goals.
One of the best ways to network within South Africa’s biodiversity space is to attend one of the biome and ecosystem-focused forums that take place annually across South Africa.
Despite the impacts of the pandemic, socially distanced ways have been found to continue to bring the biodiversity community together through these events, with many of these sessions now being held online. This means that it’s easier to learn and join in the fun, wherever you are in the world.
Here are some of the most well-known forums in South Africa:
| Usually held in May or June |
For almost two decades, the Thicket Forum has brought ‘Thicketeers’ – an affiliation of researchers, conservation managers, landowners and rural communities – together to share and discuss research findings, solutions and recommendations toward the conservation and sustainable use of the Subtropical Thicket.
A lesser-known biome, the Subtropical Thicket has exceptional diversity and conservation value. Sadly, over 70% has been transformed or is in a degraded condition. The forum is held in late May or early June annually (the 2022 date is yet to be confirmed). In 2021, however, the Thicket Forum embraced change and chose to run its conference over a WhatsApp group. Once a week, pre-recorded presentations were shared from their YouTube Channel and the group became a place for lively discussions and interrogation at set hours.
| Usually held in spring |
The longest running of these transitional multidisciplinary learning networks is the Fynbos Forum, which grew from the Fynbos Biome Project which was founded in 1977. Its collaborative approach was so successful that its participants decided to continue holding annual conferences, leading to the first Fynbos Forum meeting taking place in 1992.
Today more than 40 years later, the Fynbos Forum remains a force to bring together a range of different stakeholders from researchers to landowners across all age groups from students to retirees to network, collaborate and share knowledge. BotSoc has been a key partner of the Fynbos Forum, with several staff having held long-term leadership positions on the organising committee, has hosted the secretariat and used the platform to catalyse and implement innovative conservation work (see further reading for more detail).
The Medecos Conference
| 5-9 September 2022 |
The Fynbos Forum will connect up with the Medecos Conference, which is set to take place from 5-9 September 2022. This tie-up has been postponed since 2020 as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Medecos is an international conference organised by the International Society of Mediterranean Ecology (or ISOMED). It focuses on the ecology of Mediterranean ecosystems and brings scientists and students together to gain insights from each other on how these ecosystems work and how they are changing.
Arid Zone Ecology Forum (AZEF)
| Usually held mid-October |
This forum holds an annual conference in October, with final dates yet to be confirmed for 2022. It brings students, researchers, NGOs, government officials and land-users together to share information on the current state of knowledge and to focus the attention on the threats to and solutions for issues specific to the arid and semi-arid regions of southern Africa.
The broad region of interest includes the Succulent Karoo, Nama-Karoo and areas of the savanna and grassland biomes, as well as desert areas in southern Namibia. In 2021, the conference attendees discussed some of the major threats to the arid zone, such as poaching, mining and industrial development.
Grassland Society of Southern Africa Congress
| Held in July |
Grasslands occur in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the central plateau of South Africa. Almost 40% of grasslands have been lost to anthropogenic transformation primarily due to cropping, timber plantations, the built environment and mining. The rates of habitat loss are 0.23% per annum in the grassland biome and 0.61% per annum in the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt. Degradation arises from alien plant invasions, poor rangeland management from over grazing and incorrect fire management, as well as climate change, amongst others.
The Grassland Society of Southern Africa holds an annual Congress in July each year where best rangeland management practices are presented and threat mitigations discussed. The society publishes a scientific journal, “The African Journal of Range and Forage Science” and a popular publication called “GrassRoots” (read the November 2021 edition for free here.) The society also holds regular webinars.
Reaching younger members of our
One of the most important impacts of biodiversity learning networks such as the Fynbos Forum, Thicket Forum and AZEF have been the opportunity for younger members of the biodiversity community such as students and interns to benefit from mentorship from experts, the opportunity to share and present their work and receive feedback from those who are more experienced in the field.
In addition, support has been provided to numerous students across multiple fields. This includes student sponsorships to attend these conferences, recognition of the highest quality presentations through student prize awards as well as longer-term provision of bursaries such as the Fynbos Forum Innovation Scholarship.
Raising awareness about South Africa’s biodiversity worldwide
Through the networking process, one of the other key impacts has been to raise awareness both nationally and internationally about South Africa’s highly biodiverse ecosystems, new research, the conservation challenges that face them and the ways in which these problems can and are being tackled by informed and cohesive biome-focussed communities with multiple skills and interests.
If you are an ecological researcher, landowner, conservation professional, student, intern or any other professional or volunteer within the biodiversity space, we encourage you to get involved in the relevant learning network organisation for the ecosystems in which you work, sign up to their mailing lists and join their next meetings. We will look forward to meeting you there.
Gelderblom, C. Wood, J. (2018) The Fynbos Forum: Its Impacts and History, Fynbos Forum, Cape Town.
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