Biodiversity Informatics in South Africa, as in other parts of the world, is a young and dynamic field of science, requiring new techniques and innovations to analyse biodiversity data.
A range of professionals and technicians provide essential ICT services to biodiversity organisations. These people combine the necessary knowledge of Information and Computer Technology with their knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystems. Tasks include researching, analysing, organising and presenting biodiversity information and related scientific data and studying the literature related to conservation blueprints, priority landscapes and properties.
They may collect information in digital format, for example, GIS (Geographical Information System) technicians and specialists map information about plants, animals and their distribution patterns, or changes in soil, weather etc. in the form of digital maps.
They may design databases, enter information into databases, and take responsibility for keeping them updated. They may use information contained in existing mathematical models or which they may have to develop themselves.
GIS specialists produce digital maps that can be enlarged to show the various features of an area, e.g. its soil types, micro-climates, vegetation types, distribution of animal populations, human populations and their activities. A variety of other scientists and managers then use this information to develop policies, predict changes, and, where necessary, change the way in which the environment is managed. Very important in the context of climate change and ecosystem degradation, this work can be used to warn people about possible disasters such as storms, floods and droughts that could occur.
GIS specialists usually work in clean, well-lit and well-ventilated offices. They generally work in a shared environment, but can also work in their own cubicle equipped with computers and automated mapping equipment. The work often involves long hours working in front of a computer: some GIS professionals also go into the field to collect data.
• research institutions such as SANBI, SAIAB and SAEON
• large conservation agencies
• other government departments.