Prof Nigel Barker

University of Pretoria
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences

Head of Department: Plant and Soil Sciences
Programme Leader: Great Escarpment Biodiversity


My interests lie in plant and animal biodiversity, systematics, phylogeography and biogeography (including floristics and faunistics) and conservation. I centre my research interests around themes that are region or ecosystem based, rather than taxon based.  I thus have a multi-national terrestrial research component focusing on mountains and associated forests, called the Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme. This theme is overtly aimed at addressing massive gaps in biodiversity knowledge of mountainous areas of southern Africa, from Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho to Zimbabwe. It includes studies gathering baseline biodiversity information, the systematics and phylogeography of plant groups and animal groups. The biodiversity of the region’s mountains is poorly known, little documented, and poorly understood, despite the fact that these mountains provide almost all of the region’s water supply. These studies  are geared towards improving our  understanding of historical processes that have influenced the region’s biota, and contribute to the conservation and management of these regions, as well as developing an understanding of how anthropogenic climate change will impact mountain regions. Understanding montane ecosystem function which can only be done once we know the biodiversity) is essential in developing sound land use practices that ensure long-term sustainability of these regions.

Associated with this regional theme are studies on the macro and micro-evolutionary patterns of taxa associated with these regions. This is done using molecular (DNA-based) tools to determine evolutionary patterns with a view to explaining these in terms of geographic, geological, climatological and biological processes. I believe the use of both plant and animal models is a strength, as systematic and population level studies of these diverse groups provide different and often complimentary perspectives on historical processes that have shaped the biota of southern Africa. I also have long-standing and ongoing taxonomic / systematic interests in groups such as the Asterceae, Proteaceae, Poaceae and Leguminosae.