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World-class environmental research platforms for a sustainable society


South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) is a long-term environmental observation and research facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF). SAEON’s three focus areas are environmental observation, data management and education outreach. The Department of Science and Innovation provides core funding for these activities. 

SAEON has a distributed network of seven nodes, two research infrastructures and a national office. The research network covers the major terrestrial and marine ecosystems in South  Africa and supports well over 100 researchers and students a year.

Reflecting on 21 years of NRF-SAEON

Latest Seminar

Title: Mistletoe Twists – Are mistletoes shaping semi-arid savanna plant ecosystems

Presenter: Dr Tsitsi Maponga (Ndlovu Node Postdoc)

Mistletoes are hemi-parasitic plants that form an intimate connection through a haustorium, which facilitates the effective uptake of nutrients and water by the mistletoe from their hosts. Mistletoes have a significant impact on the composition and dynamics of ecosystems where they are found. Some of these impacts can be negative for the host; for instance, mistletoes can induce negative ecophysiological impacts on host tree performance by compromising their hosts’ size, competitive edge, and reproduction. For example, our previous work has shown that mistletoes negatively impact the reproduction capacities of their Vachellia karroo hosts in the semi-arid savannas of Zimbabwe. Currently, we are investigating how the leaf traits of the host tree, Sclerocarya birrea, vary across a rainfall gradient and level of mistletoe infection in the communal rangelands of the Bushbuckridge area in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Nonetheless, our previous studies have also demonstrated how mistletoes positively alter the physical and chemical environment, i.e., nutrient availability and soil moisture, in their immediate vicinity through their nutrient-rich leaf litter. They increase nutrient availability to both hosts and non-host species by having a high leaf turn-over and leaves with low resorption efficiency at senescence. These characteristics ensure the addition of nutrients that would have otherwise been absent or not returned to the soil system. Subsequently, our studies show that mistletoe parasitism can potentially shift the competitive balance from dominant host tree species to non-host subordinate plants, thereby changing the plant composition and productivity in an area. Our studies have also demonstrated how the presence of mistletoes at varying degrees of infection severity has a positive impact on trees’ understory productivity. Therefore, this seminar will discuss our previous and current work on how:

  • Mistletoes contribute to understory nutrients and create nutrient hotspots.
  • Mistletoes facilitate differences in understory biomass and plant species composition, creating biodiversity and productivity hotspots.
  • Mistletoes result in differences in the reproductive capacities of Vachellia karroo trees.
  • Mistletoes cause variation in leaf traits of the host Sclerocarya birrea.

The positive and negative effects of hemi-parasitic plants clearly show the twisted nature of mistletoes. As small as they are and as fun as it is to kiss beneath mistletoes at Christmas, the twist is that mistletoes have disproportionate effects on the ecosystems in which they occur.

Latest Training Workshop

GIS for Educators and Learners: free online learning programme aligned to the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements.

Presenters: Kogie Govender, Caitlin Ransom, Keneilwe Hlahane, and Rion Lerm

Our Research Nodes

SAEON encompasses seven Research Nodes throughout South Africa and a National Office that is located in the country’s political capital of Pretoria. 

Research Infrastructures​

SAEON manages three research infrastructures developed by the Department of Science and Innovation as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).

EFTEON aims to provide and operate a network of instrumented landscape-level platforms for the South African environmental research community, focused on socially relevant terrestrial landscapes and their coupled hydrological systems. 

The SMCRI provides an array of instruments and physical research platforms around the coast of South Africa and its sub-antarctic islands to collect long-term reliable data for scientific research to help decision makers formulate appropriate environmental policies to lessen the risk and vulnerability of the coastal zone to climate and global change.

The SAPRI is designed as a consortium hosted at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). The ultimate objective of SAPRI is to enable balanced research growth across the polar disciplines, and to maintain and further expand the world-class long-term observational datasets already established.

SAEON facilitates and conducts research through platforms and these have grown into a diverse array of sites, instruments, infrastructure, datasets, models and staff, widely distributed across both marine and terrestrial environments. 


Professor Juliet Hermes Earns B1 NRF Rating

Professor Juliet Hermes, Manager at NRF-SAEON’s Egagasini Node and the South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI), was recently awarded the NRF B1 Rating, a well-deserved recognition that highlights her exceptional research contributions and commitment to the advancement of knowledge in marine sciences.

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