The launch of a new research centre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Pietermaritzburg will rally research efforts at the institution to meet the threats of environmental change in South Africa’s most biodiverse province head-on by producing robust research on the region’s flora and fauna.
This comes at a time when scientists around the world are warning that up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, an unprecedented loss accelerated by human activities.
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.
Professor Steven Johnson Director of the CFB and South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Evolutionary Biology, said the centre will draw together research efforts in biodiversity and ecological sciences happening across various disciplines at the University.
Johnson 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, describing the need to create a structure that makes the most of expertise across a wide range of study areas and accesses opportunities available to researchers.
Johnson pointed to the abundance of species and habitats in the province of KwaZulu-Natal as a motivating factor to establish a centre dedicated to unifying research efforts focused on the region’s biodiversity. Researchers aim to position the centre as a national and international centre of expertise in a region in which high levels of biodiversity intersect with rapid environmental change, characterised by human-wildlife conflict, climate change, habitat loss and more.
‘Given our profile at the University and our particular place in the world, we can make a significant contribution,’ said Johnson.
The mission of the CFB includes forming a hub for leading researchers 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 be a focus of the centre, as will establishing and strengthening research partnerships nationally and internationally, and fostering collaboration between researchers across UKZN.
The centre will also link academic institutions, protected area agencies, non-governmental and municipal biodiversity interest groups or stakeholders working in biodiversity, and encourage community engagement with organisations including conservancies, schools, and non-governmental organisations.
The virtual centre is bringing together academics and students that share a common vision and who are committed to the academic ideals of the CFB, and who are seizing opportunities to expand biodiversity and ecology research.