BioGaps Project

Filling biodiversity information gaps to support development decision making in the Karoo

Project Period: 2016-2018


Currently the Karoo is poorly surveyed for biodiversity and there are large gaps in our understanding of which species occur in which parts of the Karoo. This hampers efforts to determine priority habitats that may be sensitive to future proposed changes in landuse. The Karoo is seen as an important development area for South Africa, and there needs to be responsible decision-making around developments such as shale gas exploration, farming, mining, renewable energy infrastructure and the Square Kilometre Array.

SANBI has led a consortium of institutions to a successful funding grant from the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP), so that we can advance our scientific understanding of valuable Karoo ecosystems and contribute to informed decision-making. 


Project Abstract

In this project, existing & new biodiversity data will be mobilised to support government decision-making for infrastructure development associated with exploitation of shale gas in the Karoo. South Africa, as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity has committed to protect the environment, thus shale gas exploration & extraction must be achieved responsibly.

Currently, the Karoo is poorly surveyed and existing data have major gaps, especially in the area targeted for shale gas exploration. In recognition, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) as part of a Shale Gas Exploration Strategic Environmental Assessment (SGE SEA) has commissioned bioblitzes to improve data and foundational knowledge. The timeframe and funding of the bioblitzes are however insufficient, and 70-80% of the fracking domain will remain undocumented. 

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Additional resources are therefore necessary to comprehensively survey the area to ensure increased geographic & taxonomic coverage that will allow us to map species ranges, identify important habitats, and classify wetlands & rivers, all of which will support decision-making. The project is led by a young female researcher, involves a consortium of researchers and institutions, provides research opportunities for 11 young scientists, and will train at least 8 students. It also pilots novel approaches in engaging and developing citizen scientists. Delivery of preliminary occurrence data sets and at least 20,000 records for 9 of the 11 taxa will occur in the 1st phase of the project to inform the SGE SEA.

By the end of the project 200,000 new primary occurrence records will inform species occupancy and habitat richness models which, along with 300 Red List assessments of species of conservation concern, will be served to decision makers via SANBI’s Land Use Decision Support (LUDS) tool.

Lead Organisations & Partners

Project Leader:

Ms Domitilla Raimondo, SANBI

All Collaborative Networks

The Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC PPRI) – both fieldwork and collections relating to several invertebrate taxa.

The American Museum of Natural History – for species identification and overseeing digitisation of 8000 scorpion specimens.

The Lepidopterists’ Society of Southern Africa (‘LepSoc’) – fieldwork and identifications of species for butterflies.

The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) – fieldwork and monitoring of permanent plots.

The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) – fieldwork and threat assessments for fish species.

BirdLife South Africa – fieldwork and threat assessments for bird species.

Collections institutions that will be involved in digitisation and surveys:
Albany Museum
Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld
Bews Herbarium (University of KwaZulu-Natal)
Bolus Herbarium (University of Cape Town)
Compton Herbarium (SANBI)
Ditsong Museum
Iziko Museum
National Museum.

Universities that will be involved in surveys and co-supervising postgraduate research: KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, North West and Pretoria.

DNA barcoding work will be a joint effort between SANBI, the National Zoological Gardens and the University of Johannesburg.

Species threat assessment work will be supported by the NGOs the Botanical Society of South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Under the BioGaps Project, the current paucity of biodiversity data will be addressed through:

Integrating and upgrading existing data for target taxa located in museums and herbaria around South Africa, and

Conducting detailed surveys for 12 representative taxonomic groups (plants, mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles, as well as six invertebrate groups: bees, dragonflies, grasshoppers, scorpions, butterflies and spiders) in areas targeted for shale gas exploration.

Data sets will be made available once the project is concluded


BioGaps Project Articles