The discipline of Bioinformatics has emerged in the field of molecular and cell biology to deal with the huge amounts of information generated first by genomic and more recently by transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic studies. A parallel field labelled Ecoinformatics is emerging to encompass the interpretation of data relevant to ecological and broader environmental processes. According to a Wikipedia entry, Ecoinformatics is aimed at facilitating environmental research and management by developing ways to access and integrate databases and develop new algorithms to test ecological hypotheses. Hence it encompasses not only the management and dissemination of information, but also ecological modelling and statistical assessment.
In South Africa, a pioneering thrust in Ecoinformatics has been made by a collaboration between the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Kruger Park’s Scientific Services division, but this remains unsupported by any South African academic structure. The need in South Africa for such support is especially urgent following the establishment of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) by the Department of Science and Technology, aimed at establishing the consequences of climate shifts and land use change for ecosystem services, biodiversity and human livelihoods.
The aim of the project is to develop a structured approach towards addressing the challenges and opportunities presented with special relevance to African conditions.