Biodiversity: Celebrating our natural heritage at the Iziko South African Museum

  • Posted: Jun 26, 2011
  • Author: Dr Graham Avery

South Africa is the third-most biologically diverse country in the world. Iziko South African Museum at the southwestern tip of Africa is ideally located: Here, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, the warm Agulhas Current converges and the cold Benguela Upwelling System departs. Each system affects the nature and diversity of animals and plants in the local ocean and land environments. Marine diversity provides significant food resources, which need to be understood and sustained.

On land, we are at the centre of the unique Fynbos vegetation biome, a core region of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, one of the six plant kingdoms of the world, and the one with the highest number of species. Together these factors form a region of incredible biodiversity with unlimited opportunities for research on our past and present natural heritage.

The Natural History Collections Department is part of Iziko Museums, where it is responsible for all animal and fossil research collections. Our main collection strengths are: marine vertebrates and invertebrates (particularly fish, plankton, hydroids, polychaete worms), insects (particularly ants, bees, wasps), birds (skins, eggs), herpetology (snakes, frogs, tortoises) vertebrate osteology (mammals, birds, reptiles, fish), Karoo palaeontology (mammal-like reptiles, plants), Invertebrate palaeontology (ammonites, trilobites, crinoids) and Cenozoic palaeontology (terrestrial and marine mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians), which also includes a comparative collection of prey and prey accumulations of mammalian carnivores and raptors.

For over 150 years researchers at Iziko South African Museum and their local and overseas colleagues have been at the forefront of studies to understand and develop, for human use where appropriate, the biodiversity and resources on our doorstep. This is reflected in its proud research record and its custodianship of Natural History collections of global importance.

Speciality areas of our scientists include bryzoans, fish, ants, parasitic wasps, invertebrate fossils <link: bergh_home>, palaeoecology of Gondwana, archaeozoology <link: averyg_home> and the reconstruction of past environments from the analysis of micromammals in owl pellets. 

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