Vegetation Survey of Namibia

When starting the AEZ programme, it was decided to base this programme on 3 legs: the soils, the climate and the vegetation. The vegetation descriptors should include more than just the spatial extent of the different units (i.e. the output should be more than just a map); they should at least include the typical composition, a habitat description, a description of the structure, a listing of problem plants etc. This information can then be used for land use planning and farming purposes.

At present the only undisputed vegetation map of Namibia is the map published in 1971 by Giess. This map gives only 14 broad units, comparable to biomes, with a short narrative description and a couple of photographs for each unit. Since this map was produced a number of small study areas, mostly game reserves, have been mapped in detail. Later attempts to update the national vegetation map (e.g. the Atlas of Namibia) in many cases adopted the lines drawn by Giess, not being able to produce any further refinements. Where refinements were done, these are often not accompanied by further data/information for proper, environmentally sound planning.

Although the process can be described in a few short sentences, it is not a short process at all. After initial stratification of a particular study area using aerial photos or satellite images, geological and topographical maps and GIS technology, extensive field work follows to sample the different initial mapping units. The data are captured on a computer database, and intensively checked for errors. Afterwards the data are analysed, mainly using numerical classification techniques. This very intensive process is followed by description of the units and interpretation of the results. Although final mapping can be seen as part of this description process, it has been found to be yet another rather involved step, requiring advanced remote sensing and GIS techniques.

Download this paper [pdf 1,333 kb] for a comprehensive overview of the project.

In conjunction with this project, long-term observations are made on the vegetation dynamics. This is done in close co-operation with, and with financial support from, the BIOTA southern Africa project. Some of the interesting results obtained regarding long-term changes in vegetation are currently in the process of being published.

Read about the Vegetation Ecology section at NBRI.