Spotlight Sessions at The Conservation Symposium

Spotlight Sessions are designed to ensure the continuity of special sessions from previous programmes due to the demand and opinion of delegates and the Steering and Scientific Committees.

Plant Conservation

Plants are recognised as a vital component of the planet's functioning and are essential for animal life. Increasingly, the reality is becoming apparent that a large proportion of plant taxa and their ecological interactions are in danger of extinction. The threats causing plant extinctions are human-induced, such as habitat loss and transformation, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change. Should the extinction rate not be reduced, countless opportunities to develop novel solutions to pressing economic, social, health, and industrial problems will be lost. Over 50 African countries are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), thus committing to implementing a national strategy to conserve plants that align with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The 20-year timeframe of the GSPC ended in 2020, with the concluding report suggesting that while the 16 targets of the global plan to protect plants are unlikely to be met, countries have made considerable progress towards achieving many of them. This session highlights the plant conservation advances made by South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Conservation Genetics

Although molecular and other genetic tools have been applied in a conservation context for over 30 years, their application in wildlife management has been patchy and largely carried out in a policy vacuum. Genetics was overlooked in global target setting until 2010 when Target 13 of the Aichi 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) goals identified the need to "minimise genetic erosion" and "safeguard genetic diversity" for the first time. Wildlife management in Africa requires genetic data, including the designation of population management units, managing hybridisation and its consequences, understanding and regulating intentional genetic manipulation, predicting and alleviating the genetic consequences of overharvesting, and monitoring species responses to global change (climatic and landscape), practical opportunities for the implementation of genetic testing, environmental DNA.

Ecosystem Restoration

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) and ecosystem restoration are being proposed as important contributions toward mitigating the extreme impacts of climate change. The recently-launched UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030 (http://www.decadeonrestoration.org)) aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. It is mooted as an opportunity to help end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. But there could be significant risks to biodiversity, water production and socio-ecological systems if this is not done properly. While the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is clear in promoting context-appropriate action and supports the role of science and evidence, there are many 'restoration' initiatives in Africa promoting activities, including tree planting, that seem neither grounded in science nor reality. On top of the climate change impact, Africa risks additional injury to biodiversity, water production and livelihoods from misguided interventions. Ineffective restoration interventions may incur the opportunity cost of distracting from and retarding effective global responses to climate change. In addition to unpacking the objectives, approaches and principles of the UN Decade on Ecological Restoration, this session will seek to understand the role of other international conventions and associated commitments that are driving restoration initiatives. Important African science that should be used to guide the restoration efforts on the African continent will be profiled, and we will question why some of this science is seemingly ignored. We will also discuss how to enhance the engagement of African scientists and create science-policy interface platforms to empower African negotiators in conventions and initiatives to advocate for context-appropriate interventions. Importantly, how do we keep a focus during the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration on the more cost-effective 'prevent' degradation part of the intervention rather than focusing on the more complex and expensive 'halt and reverse' (restore) part?

Innovative Technology and Data Management

This session will focus on the evolving technological innovations that are increasingly being used to improve species and ecosystem monitoring efficiencies, protected area security and data management within the Conservation Sector. Intimately linked with this increasing potential and need for data sharing and data distribution. This pressure is thus also driving evolution in other aspects of data management, including legislation on data management and security, Intellectual property rights laws, as well as the drive to 'unlock' and integrate already collected historic 'hard copy'.

Biological Invasions

This session will discuss the threat of biological invasion on biodiversity and its conservation. There will be a special focus (but not exclusive) on Africa and protected areas. The sessions will cover all aspects of biological invasions for all taxonomic groups, from understanding their status and trends, direct and indirect drivers of invasions, documented impacts on human and animal wellbeing, environment and biodiversity, management options and policy. The session will also capture issues related to current knowledge gaps on data and information related to biological invasions. Understanding this broad spectrum is important in planning for managing biological invasions under the current financial climate and global changes. The session will begin with a broad overview of the IPBES processes on the global assessment of invasive alien species and their control, followed by presentations that capture different aspects of biological invasions. The remainder of the time will be on discussions related to options for filling knowledge gaps and an integrated approach towards the management of biological invasions in Africa. This session will be particularly valuable for anyone who wants to understand the broad spectrum of biological invasions and how the science-policy interface can be strengthened to avert biodiversity loss.

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