South Africa is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, and harbours one
of the richest floras. Vast areas of the country remain under-collected, and a large proportion
of species are taxonomically problematic and under-represented in herbarium collections.
These factors hinder management of biodiversity. The main intention of this study was to
develop a strategy for plant taxonomic research that would meet the needs of end users, and
make efficient use of scarce human and financial resources in South Africa.
The development of plant taxonomy in South Africa from 1600 to 2014 is reviewed,
with emphasis on the main driving factors that have influenced the research direction,
techniques used, and choice of taxonomic research topic. At present the predominant culture
of taxonomy is directed towards electronic dissemination of taxonomic information, leading
to increased accessibility and connectivity.
An assessment of plant taxonomic capacity in South Africa is provided. From an
analysis of the existing gaps in taxonomic information, current research trends, and existing
resources, it is apparent that there is a critical shortage of human capacity in South Africa to
conduct plant taxonomic research for the benefit of biodiversity and society.
An objective method of prioritising taxa in urgent need of taxonomic research was
developed and can potentially be used for all organisms and be equally applicable to other parts of the world. This methodology informed the development of a Strategy for plant
taxonomic research in South Africa 2015 2020. Three research programmes are proposed to
focus on the main gaps in taxonomic knowledge, and a plant collecting programme is
suggested to improve foundational biodiversity data. The maintenance of high quality
standards for information contained in taxonomic databases is crucial, hence
recommendations are made for addressing data quality.
Since implementation of the Strategy at SANBI in 2011, progress has been
satisfactory. It is anticipated that by 2020, South Africa will have a centralised online
electronic resource for plant taxonomic information; the number of genera in urgent need of
revision will have halved; and taxonomically problematic taxa reduced by 20%. In this way
strategic planning benefits both taxonomy and end users.