New Centre Boosts Biodiversity and Ecology Research

UKZN’s Centre for Functional Biodiversity (CFB) was officially launched at an event on the Pietermaritzburg campus attended by academics, students and researchers from across the University’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, as well as several other institutes and research centres.

Addressing attendees, Professor Steven Johnson, Director of the CFB and South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Evolutionary Biology, explained that the Centre was initiated to draw together research efforts in biodiversity and ecological sciences across various disciplines at the University.

Johnson provided a background on developments in the fields of biodiversity science and ecology and ecosystem functioning that paved the way for the growth in these scientific fields. He spoke about UKZN’s contributions as a leading institution in biodiversity and ecology research.

‘People are doing an incredibly diverse range of ecological and biodiversity science-related work across the University,’ said Johnson. He added that this raised the need for a structure that makes the most of this expertise and the opportunities available to researchers.

Johnson pointed to the abundance of species and habitats in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the richest in the country in terms of its biodiversity, as a motivating factor to establish a centre. Researchers aim to position the CFB as a national and international centre of expertise in a region in which high levels of biodiversity intersect with rapid environmental change.

‘Given our profile at the University and our particular place in the world, we can make a significant contribution,’ said Johnson.

He also elaborated on the mission of the CFB, noting that it will form a hub for leading researchers, including UKZN’s SARChI and University research chairs, with expertise in studying the origins, distribution and maintenance of biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. Postgraduate training in basic and applied biological sciences will also be a focus.

Within the field of biodiversity and ecology, the CFB aims to initiate and strengthen research, develop the capacity of postgraduate students and young scientists, establish and strengthen research partnerships nationally and internationally, and foster collaboration between researchers in different Schools and Colleges at UKZN.

The Centre will also develop a regional community of practice involving academic institutions, protected area agencies, and non-governmental and municipal biodiversity interest groups or stakeholders. It will foster community engagement and linkages with relevant research agencies, and encourage community engagement with organisations including conservancies, schools, and non-governmental organisations.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod