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Landmark guides on invertebrates now accessible to a new generation

A database containing taxonomic and distributional data for South African aquatic invertebrates can now be found on SAEON’s electronic data portal.

Between 2000 and 2007, the Water Research Commission (WRC) published a nine-volume series of guides that include keys to most of the fresh- and brackish-water invertebrates in southern Africa.

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The nine-volume series of guides published by the WRC between 2000 and 2007, of which three are shown here, is still regarded as the definitive work on the identification of Southern African freshwater invertebrates

The aim of the series was, firstly, to improve understanding of biodiversity in the region. The geographical coverage, while focusing principally on southern Africa, also includes distribution records from elsewhere in Africa. Secondly, the guides drew together all previous definitive works (some dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries) and all recent literature of the time.

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Macro-invertebrates are an essential functional component of freshwater ecosystems. Not only are they an important food source for other aquatic animals such as fish, but they are responsible for the removal and recycling of nutrients, as well as biologically filtering and purifying the water they live in. The presence or absence of sensitive species or, conversely, the proliferation of pollution-tolerant species offers some insight into the overall state of health of a particular aquatic environment. As a result, the monitoring of aquatic invertebrates is becoming increasingly recognised as an invaluable tool for water quality assessment.

The volumes were the culmination of years of effort by a large number of people and organisations. In 1998 Professor Jenny Day of the Freshwater Research Unit at the University of Cape Town took on the role of senior scientific editor, and writer Irene de Moor was contracted to take on the job of managing editor to ensure an easy-to-use format for the guides.

"The guides are still extensively used, particularly by postgraduate students, but what is encouraging is that they are used by other groups as well, such as educators," says Prof. Day. They are also of great value to people involved in assessing river health and for a WRC-funded research project currently underway to investigate aquatic invertebrates as indicators of thermal change.

SAEON data portal

A database containing taxonomic and distributional data for South African aquatic invertebrates can be found on SAEON's electronic data portal. The database includes all species known for southern Africa and the Afrotropical region as well as their distribution ranges, even those beyond the shores of Africa. The checklists are based largely, if not entirely, on the records in the WRC series of guides to the freshwater invertebrates of southern Africa.

"As this digital inventory is freely available on the SAEON portal, the volumes will continue to serve as a guide for future generations of educators, aquatic scientists, students and environmental managers," comments Prof. Day.

A database containing taxonomic and distributional data for South African aquatic invertebrates can now be found on SAEON’s electronic data portal

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The guides are of great value to people involved in assessing river health

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