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Honorary Research Associate

Dr Helga van der Merwe

PhD (Pretoria)

Telephone: +27 341 1002





Helga van der Merwe (nee Rösch) was born and raised in Pretoria. Her tertiary studies began in 1991 towards a BSc in Botany and Genetics at the University of Pretoria. At the end of the three-year degree, she was awarded the Margaretha Mes Memorial Prize for the best woman student in Botany. She completed her BSc (Hons) (cum laude) in 1994 and her MSc (cum laude) in 1995. 

In 1997, Helga accepted a position as botanist at the then Northern Cape Nature Conservation and moved to Calvinia and was involved in various ecological studies in Namaqualand and the Kalahari regions. Later, as Senior Nature Conservation Scientist, she was responsible for all botanical aspects of the western half of the Northern Cape Province. 

Following a successful project application to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund in 2004, she received funding to conduct research for four years in the Hantam, Tanqua and Roggeveld areas. These studies later evolved into a PhD thesis which included a vegetation map covering approximately three million hectares, as well as biodiversity comparisons across the three areas and across the world. Since then, Helga has been able to conduct additional research/investigations in Bushmanland and other Nama Karoo areas as well as the Succulent Karoo and Savannah areas.

While completing her tertiary studies and later working and re-registering to continue her studies, she built up an extensive knowledge base on the arid areas of South Africa. Helga has published numerous scientific and popular articles on studies conducted in the arid regions of South Africa. Additionally, she published a field guide on the Wildflowers of the Roggeveld and Tanqua and has compiled, or assisted in, the compilation of numerous botanical/ecological/biodiversity specialist reports as part of vegetation surveys and environmental impact assessments in the semi-arid areas of South Africa.

In April 2015, Helga was granted a Research Career Award Fellowship by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and has accordingly been appointed as a scientist in the SAEON Arid Lands Node. Her project is titled: Assessing the impact of climate change, land use and management on vegetation in the arid areas using pre-existing data and expanding monitoring. 

Project objectives include: (a) continued monitoring of active long-term monitoring projects, collating and analysing data, publishing scientific manuscripts; (b) re-instating abandoned or intermittently sampled long-term monitoring projects, collating and analysing data, publishing manuscripts; (c) compiling a database of once-off surveys conducted in the Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and Kalahari regions and investigating which merit follow-up surveys; (d) designing and initiating new long-term monitoring projects to investigate changes in vegetation across gradients; (e) mentoring SAEON Arid Node technicians; (f) building new and re-enforcing existing partnerships between SAEON and other scientists active in the study areas; and (g) identifying smaller projects within the larger project in which postgraduate students can be involved and supervised. An adaptive monitoring approach will be used, which enables monitoring programmes to evolve iteratively as new information emerges and research questions change.