'We live in an age of information sharing,' says Judith Kruger, manager of science support at Scientific Services in the Kruger National Park (KNP). 'As scientists and conservationists working in SANParks, we need to make sure we have an up-to-date system to share data with each other and the researchers working in our national parks' explains Judith.
Over the last five years Judith has been working on developing a data access system for SANParks, together with ecologists and software developers from NCEAS (National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis) in Santa Barbara, USA.
The first version of this system was specifically for the KNP and was launched in 2007 as the KNP Data Repository. Since then, the access page has been modified and upgraded and now includes access to data in all SANParks, and not just the Kruger National Park.
The new-look data repository will allow staff, researchers and members of the public to find data from research that has been conducted in all SANParks. The page now includes an interactive map of South Africa, showing the position of all SANParks.
Data that has not been published in the scientific arena is password protected and there is a login facility for groups of researchers working on the same data sets to access the specific sets of information they require.
'The idea is to have a central place where we keep all the data generated in our national parks, and the supporting information about that data (also called metadata) whether it be results from vegetation surveys in Kruger or records of locust outbreaks in Karoo National Park, which we will actively manage and update as we get more information" says Judith.
As there are numerous research projects underway in any of the national parks at one time, lots of information from a wide range of topics is being collected and this needs to be stored and kept safe for future use. With this in mind, the data repository has been designed to accommodate ever-increasing amounts of information and yet remain easy to use.
Several SANParks staff, including regional ecologists and bio-technicians, were in Skukuza in January this year to learn more about the updated data repository and, more importantly, how to add their research data to the system.
As the data repository is further refined, SANParks staff and researchers will play a more active role in adding their data to the system. In addition, the current system is not only planned as a data management tool but has capabilities to analyse much of this data to help ecologists and scientists have a better understanding of how the ecosystems in protected areas work at various levels.
By Michele Hofmeyr