Science - March 23, 2006

Kruger Park vegetation goes digital

The vegetation knowledge system Syn BioSys developed by Alterra is already widely used for nature management and development in the Netherlands and Europe. But it is also suitable for use in Africa, and Alterra is preparing the system for the Kruger National Park.

SynBioSys, short for ‘syntaxonomic biological system’, makes it possible for non-experts to look at a landscape from a vegetation point of view on the computer. The data needed is being entered using the Turboveg programme developed at Alterra. The Kruger National Park in South Africa already had a lot of data available, including Turboveg vegetation data. That made it easy to develop a SynBioSys for the park.

The prototype is already running. Project leader Dr Joop Schaminée shows on his laptop how the vegetation in the area has changed in the period since 1984. An overview, that looks like a small film, shows that plant growth in the savannah is variable. The information on past changes can help researchers to estimate the carrying capacity of the Kruger Park when it comes to the big wild animals that live there, such as elephants, buffalo, giraffe and impala.

Schaminée adds that the big wildlife there make vegetation surveys more exciting than in the Netherlands. ‘We were walking towards a mountain one day to record vegetation, and a herd of buffalo suddenly stormed past.’ The plants are different as well. ‘Except for a few marsh plants, there are no plant species there that we have in the Netherlands.’ Instead Schaminée saw enormous baobabs and acacias with ten centimetre thorns. / MW

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