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MoU cements partnership between SAEON and North-West University

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Yolandi Els, the first coordinator of SAEON’s Arid Lands Node in Kimberley, is a former student of Prof. Klaus Kellner of NWU

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Prof. Kobus Pienaar and his colleagues from NWU contributed to SAEON’s landmark publication "Observations on environmental change in South Africa", which highlights pertinent socio-economic implications of environmental change

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A species accumulation curve from four sites sampled by students from NWU, at one of the long-term monitoring sites of the SAEON Ndlovu Node. The curves reveal a very high number of herbaceous plant species on the syenite inselbergs ("Koppies") found on parts of the Palabora Copper Mine and in the neighbouring Kruger National Park. The rehabilitation areas of the mine ("Rock dump" and "Tailings") show similar to lower species richness than an undisturbed benchmark site in the national park ("Kruger").

The link between SAEON and North-West University (NWU) goes back a couple of years to the exciting days before SAEON’s inception, when Prof. Melville Saayman and his team assisted with the scoping report and hosting decision for the envisaged new organisation, which would observe and study long-term change in South Africa’s key biomes.

Since those early days the relationship has been reinforced in a number of ways. Yolandi Els, a student of Prof. Klaus Kellner, became the first coordinator for SAEON's Arid Lands Node in Kimberley. Prof. Kobus Pienaar and his colleagues contributed to SAEON’s landmark publication "Observations on environmental change in South Africa".

Dr Jonathan Taylor is involved in the Arid Lands Node study on the composition and changes of diatoms as indicators of pollution along the full length of the Orange River.

The SAEON Ndlovu Node is currently hosting five postgraduate NWU students, supervised by Dr Frances Siebert and Dr Stefan Siebert, who have been studying plant diversity at Palabora Copper, the large copper mine near Phalaborwa. The Node has also supported the long-term monitoring of vegetation, led by Dr Frances Siebert, at the Letaba Exclosure in the Kruger National Park.

Accession agreement

On 13 August an accession agreement was signed by NWU and SAEON to formalise the relationship between the two entities. By signing the agreement, NWU staff, students, visiting scientists and contractors have gained official participant’s status of all the SAEON nodes. They may participate in any relevant research project as part of the activities of a node and will make their data available to SAEON at regular intervals.

The ultimate aim is to promote the use and integration of data generated by this research for the public good.

In terms of the agreement, all participants will enjoy unrestricted access to the data and information generated, coordinated, analysed and published by SAEON. The data may be used freely for research, management advice, policy making or science education, with due acknowledgement to SAEON.

Johan Pauw, Managing Director of SAEON described the signing of the agreement as a way of leveraging even more NWU-SAEON collaborations. SAEON provides several research and education platforms through its nodes that are distributed country-wide.

Although SAEON is not a research funding agency, it subsidises university research and education by offering research opportunities at existing sites. Many of these sites have instruments and long-term datasets available that will advance the students' research progress.

Win-win situation

"SAEON staff could assist research students with supervision and bench space and, in return, the students' research contributes to SAEON's objectives," Johan Pauw said.

SAEON has signed similar agreements with a number of other higher education institutions - the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, the Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Venda and Fort Cox. It also recently signed an agreement with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

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Present at the signing ceremony: (Front row, from left) Dr Amani Saidi, Operations Manager, SAEON; Prof. Frikkie van Niekerk, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Technology, NWU; Prof. Tim O’Connor, Observation Science Specialist, SAEON; and Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node. Back row: Johan Pauw, Managing Director of SAEON and Prof. Kobus Pienaar, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, NWU

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