National Biodiversity Assessment for 2018 (NBA2018)

National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) 2018

Summary document

Initiated April 2016

Link to the Freshwater ecoystems page

Link to the Coastal ecosystems page

Link to the Estuarine ecosystems page


Background to NBA2018

The exceptional biodiversity and high endemism in South Africa is matched by the country’s high cultural diversity and its need for sustainable development. The challenging socio-economic setting combined with global change pressures make the assessment and monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems an essential undertaking. The National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) is a product of high scientific importance led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs and several other partner organisations. It is central to fulfilling SANBI’s mandate to monitor and report regularly on the status of the country’s biodiversity, in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004). The NBA 2018 follows from the NBA 2011 (published in 2012) and the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment (NBSA) 2004 (published in 2005).

Purpose and scope

The primary purpose of the NBA is to assess the state of South Africa’s biodiversity based on best available science, with a view to understanding trends over time and informing policy and decision-making across a range of sectors. For more on the nature of the NBA and its role, including its links to policy and legislation, please see the introductory chapter of the NBA 2011 Synthesis Report[1], available at the NBA webpage:

The NBA 2018 seeks to answer the following high-level policy-relevant questions in:

1.       Status: How is South Africa’s biodiversity doing, at the ecosystem, species and genetic level?

2.      Trends: Are ecosystems, species and genetic diversity doing better or worse?

3.       Are we responding effectively to the challenge of managing and conserving biodiversity?

4.      How is society benefiting from biodiversity, and how are benefits being affected by changes in biodiversity?


The NSBA 2004 and the NBA 2011 focused mainly on the first question and to some extent the second and third. The intention is to broaden the NBA 2018 to include a more explicit focus on the third and fourth questions.


The NBA 2018 will report on at least the following core indicators:

·         For genetic diversity:

o  National reporting on genetic diversity is a recent development and SANBIs team hopes to assess phylogenetic distance and genetic diversity for selected taxa.

·         For indigenous species:

o  Threat status, for selected taxonomic groups (based on Red-Lists)

o  Protection level for species is being investigated by SANBI’s threatened species programme.

o  Trends in selected species of social or economic importance (e.g. harvested or traded species)

o  Trends in selected species inferred from habitat loss and other pressures (based on Land Cover Change and other modelled indices)

·         For ecosystems:

o  Ecosystem threat status, across all environments (terrestrial and aquatic)

o  Ecosystem protection level, across all environments

·         For pressures:

o  Rates and patterns  of habitat loss and degradation rates of selected habitats

o  Key invasive alien species (indicators to still be fully developed)

o  Climate change (indicators to still be fully developed)

o  Exploitation of wild populations / fisheries & species in trade (indicators to be developed)

·         For responses and benefits:

o  Indicators yet to be developed

The NBA differentiates between themes and realms or environments (Table 1), collectively referred to as “components”. While the scope of the NBA may expand over time to include additional aspects or themes (for example, a stronger focus on ecological infrastructure), the intention is to retain the assessment of a set of core indicators that can provide a robust long-term picture of the status and trends in South Africa’s biodiversity.

Table 1: Content structure of the National Biodiversity Assessment showing examples of key packages of work and analyses envisaged.






(Wetlands & Rivers)


Marine & Coastal

Assessment of Biodiversity

Describe  Biodiversity


·         Assess phylogenetic diversity for selected taxa (data dependent )

·         Identify areas with high Phylogenetic and Genetic Diversity


·         Improve taxonomy

·         Map species distribution and identify patterns


·         Classify & map ecosystems


Describe Pressures on biodiversity and their trends over time


·         Climate change: species distributions and phenology, and ecosystem function and distribution

·         Ecosystem condition  (including habitat loss,  fragmentation, degradation and over utilization)

·         Invasive alien species impacts on biodiversity

·         Over-exploitation of species (including species in trade and commercial harvesting (fisheries))

·         Pollution; toxic and nutrient.

Assess the Status of biodiversity

·         Red-lists for various taxonomic groups

·         Assess condition of ecosystems

·         Set biodiversity targets

·         Calculate Threat Status (TS) & Protection Level (PL)

Determine the Trends in biodiversity status  over time

·         Trends in genetic diversity

·         Trends in  TS and PL for species (Red List Index for selected taxa)

·         Trends in TS and PL for ecosystems

·         Trends in abundance / distribution / phenology of selected species

Describe the range of  Responses to biodiversity pressures

·         Protected areas (including biodiversity stewardship)

·         Identifying critical biodiversity areas to inform planning and decision making

·         Identify proxy’s for action on biodiversity (e.g. spending in sector)

·         Invasive species programme

·         Climate adaptation networks

·         Scientific Authority and taxon-specific regulations – non detriment reporting, CITIES, TOPS

·         Ecosystem Accounting

Describe the range of Benefits of biodiversity

·         Economic/rational values of biodiversity – Goods, Health, Jobs, new business

·         Emotional value (aesthetic, spiritual, recreational benefits)

·         Practical value (Economic benefits might not be easy to see at first, but indirectly having huge economic benefit)


Overall components and governance

As was the case for the NSBA 2004 and the NBA 2011, the NBA 2018 will be led by SANBI in partnership with a range of other organisations. Specifically, it will be led by SANBI’s Biodiversity Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division, with support from the Biodiversity Planning and Policy Advice Division. SANBI does not have all the capacity required to undertake the NBA in-house, and will draw substantially on contributions of time and other in-kind resources from the managed network over the course of the project. This is important not only for completing the work, but also for the collective ownership of the NBA by the biodiversity science community in South Africa. The exact configuration of partners and their contributions for the NBA 2018 is currently unfolding.

Since the NBA is a multi-author and multi-stakeholder project; a number of committees and reference groups need to be set up, linking SANBI contributors and managers of process with contributors from partner organisations (Figure 1).


Key outputs

While NBA 2011 only consisted of the technical reports for the terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, marine & coastal environments, the NBA Synthesis Report, LIFE (State of Biodiversity report) and some of the underlying data; outputs or products of the NBA 2018 will include the following:

•          Conceptual framework: Given the establishment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), increasing attention is being paid internationally to conceptual frameworks for assessment of biodiversity. The conceptual framework that underpins the NSBA 2004 and NBA 2011 is novel, but has not yet been made fully explicit. Parts of the conceptual framework are set out in Chapter 3 of the NBA 2011 Synthesis Report, and parts can be found in the ecosystem chapters (Chapters 4 to 8). However, the term “conceptual framework” is not used, and to some extent the conceptual framework remains implicit. NBA 2018 is an opportunity to rectify this, setting out clearly the conceptual approach that guides the assessment from early on in the process. 

  • Component technical reports: Each environment (terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, marine and coastal) will produce a technical report, setting out the data, methods and results. The environment leader will in most cases be the lead author of the technical report, with some or all of the reference group members as co-authors. The intended audience of the technical reports includes scientists, researchers, managers, practitioners and others with significant technical expertise in the field concerned. The cross-cutting, theme oriented leaders (species, genetics, pressures, benefits) will decide on the level of formal reporting, and there may be potential for some stand-alone thematic reports, if audiences for such reports exist. 
  • Synthesis report: As with the NSBA 2004 and NBA 2011, an overall synthesis report will be a key product of the NBA 2018. The synthesis report is more than just the sum of the findings from all the components, and needs to provide a coherent narrative that speaks to policy and to South Africa’s developmental goals. The intended audience of the synthesis report is policymakers and practitioners in a range of fields, who do not necessarily have deep technical expertise but who are not laypeople.
  • LIFE report: The NBA 2011 Synthesis Report formed the basis for a much shorter report titled “LIFE: The State of South Africa’s Biodiversity 2012”, aimed at a popular audience and the general public. This proved highly successful, and the same will be done for the NBA 2018. It is likely that “LIFE” will focus on the links between the findings of the NBA and the benefits from biodiversity, to make it highly accessible to a lay audience.
  • Peer-reviewed papers: While the NSBA 2004 and NBA 2011 have had good uptake in policy and implementation, the methods and results of both of these assessments have remained largely in the grey literature, which limits their uptake by other scientists and researchers. This may also have negative implications for their credibility for informing policy. For the NBA 2018, there is an explicit goal to publish key aspects of the assessment in the formal literature, and to build this into the work programme of each environment or theme from the start. A possible solution to be explored is a special issue of Bothalia - African Biodiversity & Conservation.
  • Communication strategy: A communication strategy should be developed and implemented as part of the workplan of the NBA 2018, to ensure optimal media coverage of NBA-related products and events and to ensure that the right audiences become aware of the NBA processes and findings.
  • Data and metadata: The data layers collated or produced as part of the NBA 2018 will be a key product of the project. Wherever possible, the data and accompanying metadata will be made public at the end of the project and served on SANBI’s Biodiversity Advisor or BGIS website, along with the NBA reports.
  • Ecosystem Classification and Mapping: SANBI published an Ecosystem Classification Concept Note in 2013, proposing the establishment of a National Ecosystem Classification (and mapping) Committee, and subsidiary committees for the marine, terrestrial, freshwater and estuarine realms. This proposed approach has been linked to the NBA 2018, and made the responsibility of the Marine, Terrestrial, Freshwater and Estuarine Components Leads. The freshwater realm will be split for this process into the Wetlands Ecosystem Classification Committee and the River Ecosystem Classification Committee (Figure 1). A separate Estuarine Ecosystem Classification Committee will be formed with close links to the Marine (and coastal) Ecosystem Classification Committee. The role of the ecosystem classification committees is to provide oversight and guidance for national scale ecosystem classification and mapping in each realm, in order to strengthen the National Biodiversity Assessment and bioregional planning process. Facilitating the development and maintenance of a national ecosystem classification and mapping system is an on-going SANBI goal, supported to a large degree by the CSIR for the duration of the NBA 2018.


For further information please contact Heidi van Deventer (Freshwater Component and Wetland Sub-component) at and Lindie Smith-Adao (River Sub-component) at


[1] Driver, A., Sink, K.J., Nel, J.L., Holness, S.H., Van Niekerk, L., Daniels, F., Jonas, Z., Majiedt, P.A., Harris, L. & Maze, K. 2012. National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: An assessment of South Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Synthesis report. South African National Biodiversity Institute & Department of Environmental Affairs, Pretoria.

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