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Centre of Excellence

Centre of Excellence

The Percy FitzPatrick Institute has an international reputation for research excellence in ornithology and high quality post-graduate educational programmes in ornithology and conservation biology. In recognition of this achievement, and to support an ambitious research programme, the Institute was identified as a Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Birds as Keys to Biodiversity Conservation in 2004 by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. In 2009 a 5-year international NRF review rated the Fitztitute CoE at least equal to the world’s two other major ornithological institutes (Cornell and Oxford). Following this, a second five-year term was granted, securing support for the period 2011-2014. In July 2012, the NRF announced that “the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor had directed that the Department of Science and technology (DST) continue to provide funding through the National Research Foundation (NRF) in support of the first cohort of centres of excellence founded in 2004 and 2005. The plan is to fund these CoEs at the same levels, with annual increases as may be determined for an additional five years” (i.e. 2015 – 2019)! We are extremely grateful for this extended commitment from the DST and the NRF and look forward to continued high quality outputs and excellence in science. Our research team comprises a national network of researchers from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and collaborating partners at other institutions.

Goals

Understanding and Maintaining Biodiversity

A South African Perspective
South Africa ranks third in the world after Brazil and Indonesia in terms of known biodiversity, and is unique in being home to three biodiversity hotspots (Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and the recently identified Pondoland hotspot). This wealth of biodiversity (and endemism) brings enormous benefits to the country through tourism and bio-prospecting potential, and is a source of considerable national pride. But it also confers the responsibility to catalogue biodiversity and manage it in a sustainable manner. It is thus essential that South Africa invest significantly in biodiversity conservation, not only through formal conservation actions, such as establishing a comprehensive reserve network, but also through research and capacity development. This demands the training of conservation biologists with a thorough understanding of the functioning of natural systems, as well as the ability to monitor and influence human impacts on the natural environment.

To conduct cutting edge research that applies new approaches to long-standing problems in two primary research themes: understanding and maintaining biodiversity. The first will investigate the processes responsible for generation of biodiversity and how relationships between organisms and their environments influence the form and functioning of biological systems. The second will build on the strong theoretical and empirical foundations provided by the first to assess, predict and manage human impacts, with emphasis on understanding the dynamic links that lead to biodiversity loss, developing effective strategies to stem this loss, and discovering ways to use components of biodiversity sustainably.

Building Human Capacity

To build human capacity in biodiversity conservation by attracting high-flying post-graduate students to our dissertation research programme and MSc programmes in Conservation Biology and Systematics and Biodiversity Science. Our research and mentoring capacity will be significantly enhanced by the involvement of high-flying post-doctoral research associates.

Developing Networks

To develop a wide network of key collaborative associations with scientific peers, partnerships with conservation organisations and NGOs, and strong relationships with business organisations with either direct or indirect interests in the field of conservation biology.

Providing Access to Knowledge

To provide public access to our highly developed pool of knowledge in ornithology and conservation biology through contributions to the semi-popular literature, books, and the mass media.

Establishing Formal Contacts

To establish formal contacts with a wide range of biodiversity conservation agencies so that a significant proportion of our work is guided by their needs for information and analysis.