Crucial milestone for ecosystems research in South Africa
By the EFTEON Team
By the EFTEON Team
Extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders has led to the selection of six ecosystem research sites located across the country for the Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON), a large research infrastructure that is being developed under the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) programme of the Department of Science and Innovation. EFTEON is hosted by SAEON, a programme of the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Each of the six selected ecosystem research sites represents a large landscape in one of the major biomes in South Africa and includes areas representing human-transformed ecosystems such as urban areas and agricultural systems. Research programmes performed within the designated EFTEON Landscapes will broadly cover the status and observed dynamics of the carbon and water cycles, climate and air quality, ecosystem condition and productivity, biodiversity, and water quality and supply.
“Despite the distressing impact of Covid-19 on normal business processes, a thorough step-wise selection process was followed to identify the most appropriate EFTEON landscapes,” says Dr Chris Moseke, chair of the EFTEON Advisory Panel.
An open call for the nomination of potential landscapes was extended nationally to initiate the process. A subcommittee evaluated the 57 nominations received and developed a shortlist of nominations that, in some instances where geographic overlapping was evident, proposed collaboration between the affected parties.
A total of 19 regional virtual workshops involving nearly 500 participants were held with the teams of shortlisted proponents to clarify EFTEON’s expectations. This resulted in 19 excellent landscape proposals and a tough competition that took two days for the subcommittee to evaluate and rank the proposals in order of excellence.
“The EFTEON Advisory Panel duly considered and endorsed the final report as the result of an open, just and defensible process,” says Dr Moseke.
The Northern Maluti-Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal builds on the historical research site at Cathedral Peak and extends the research infrastructure out of the World Heritage Site into areas of both subsistence and commercial agriculture in the headwaters of the Tugela River (Photo: Shutterstock)
Maputaland in Northern KwaZulu-Natal is the most tropical of the selected landscapes and an important region for observing changes in the impact of tropical meteorological systems (Photo: Shutterstock)
“South Africa’s investment in EFTEON is a major advancement towards improving our national capacity to understand critical ecological processes and how they support and respond to the societies depending on them,” says Dr Molapo Qhobela, chief executive officer of the NRF.
He explains that the thematic focus of the EFTEON programme is on ecosystem processes, the state of the environment and the quality and quantity of ecosystem services. Social systems, including economic systems, fundamentally rely on their ecological contexts to sustain and improve human well-being.
EFTEON manager, Dr Gregor Feig, describes the design of EFTEON as a modular research infrastructure consisting of an array of ecosystem research sites and high-tech ecosystem research equipment.
“The long-term impact of EFTEON will be through sophisticated people-nature observations and experimentation to clarify the complex relationships between societies and ecosystems in diverse environments under climate change as a pervasive driver of change,” says Dr Feig.
According to SAEON managing director Johan Pauw, the designated EFTEON landscapes are supported by central coordination through SAEON and data management facilities (shared with the two other SARIR-funded Environmental Research Infrastructures, these being the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) and the proposed South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI) and general SAEON operations).
High-elevation weather station and cloud precipitation collector at Jonkershoek (Photo: Abri de Buys)
An array of weirs measure streamflow at the Jonkershoek and Cathedral Peak research sites (Photo: Retang Mokua)
The Lowveld (Mpumalanga) landscape comprises conservation lands use (Kruger National Park and private conservation areas) that are well studied, with adjacent lands under traditional authority management and with villages that are well studied through the SAPRIN Agincourt Research infrastructure (Photo: Shutterstock)