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UKZN’s Bews Herbarium Curator at a Conference in Nairobi

2017/06/21 09:58:46 AM

Dr Benny Bytebier, attended the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa Conference in Nairobi.


From left: Ms Chantal Adrianarivo, Mauritius; Mr Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, Madagascar; Ms Andilyat Mohamed, Comoros; Mr Solo Hery Rapanarivo, Madagascar (partly obscured), Mr Charles Morel, Seychelles and Mr Benny Bytebier.  

The curator of the Bews Herbarium (NU) at the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus, Dr Benny Bytebier, attended the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT) Conference in Nairobi where he gave an interview describing the training he delivered during a workshop before the event, and what herbaria curators hoped would follow from it.

The training given by Bytebier was on imaging and digitisation of preserved herbarium specimens using the Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System (BRAHMS) so that important information about the local flora is collated, conserved and shared. Trainees included curators from herbaria in the Western Indian Ocean area - a biodiversity hotspot rich in endemic plants threatened by anthropogenic activity. Creating an inventory of these species is vital in ensuring their conservation.

Bytebier has curated UKZN’s collection of an estimated 150 000 specimens of plants since 2008, in a herbarium begun in 1910 with specimens dating back to the 1860s. The Bews Herbarium is one of six major herbaria in South Africa, which together store 85% of South Africa’s botanical specimens. UKZN has the largest one in KwaZulu-Natal.

Bytebier supported digitising this important collection of plant specimens onto the BRAHMS system, and has seen the system adopted by the South African National Botanical Institute (SANBI). So far, about 30% of the specimens in the Bews Herbarium have been digitised. They are available to scientists and the general public  bewsherbarium Bytebier has previously presented training on this system together with colleagues from the University of Oxford.

At the workshop preceding the AETFAT Conference, previously held in South Africa, Bytebier presented training designed to help curators work independently to digitise their databases and bring them online.

‘This is an incredible resource to learn about plants in this area - there are many but little is known about them,’ said Bytebier.

Bytebier added that the long-term aim was to integrate these databases into one single resource of all locally available plant information. The conference provided the ideal platform as it is the most important conference related to plant taxonomy in Africa.

Being at the event and facilitating the training also allowed Bytebier and colleagues to network with botanists globally who work on African flora to find links between their work, hopefully allowing for the creation of a close network of not only the western Indian Ocean herbaria, but other herbaria in the region and further abroad. 

Christine Cuénod

UKZNDABA online

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