The Biodiversity Observatory is situated in the coastal Namaqualand in the Lowland Succulent Karoo. The area is characterised by gently undulated hills (up to 400 m asl) with granite rocks. The upper slopes are typically dominated by higher growing shrubs and small trees that benefit from the additional water supplied by run-off water from the granite boulders, whereas the low-lying areas are dominated by creeping or low-growing leaf succulent shrubs, annuals and geophytes. The average annual rainfall is about 120 mm with maxima from May to September. Fog, coming in from the cold Benguela Current, and dew, play a very important role with regard to the water supply for the shallow rooting perennial plants.The Observatory covers a typical topo-sequence from a valley to the hill-top of a granite hill. The communal farm is used by the small Soebatsfontein community (around 270 inhabitants) north of the Observatory for small stock farming (goats and sheep). The animals are gathered in stock posts at night. The current stocking rate is below recommended stocking rates. Access to farm land is strongly controlled by the Commonage Committee of the community. The Biodiversity Observatory of 1 km² in size is accompanied by an enclosure camp of 4 ha where grazing has been excluded since 2004.
The soil and vegetation types in the Observatory are driven by the topography and the heuweltjies (termitaria which are up to 30 m in diameter) that can be found in very high densities in the lower lying areas. The dominating seed plant species are leaf succulents of the families Asteraceae, Aizoaceae, Crassulaceae as well as many annual and perennial non-succulent Scrophulariaceae species.The main focus of research at this site are the phytodiversity patterns which are driven by topography and present and past land use as well as effects of climate change on biodiversity. Major research activities are currently conducted by botanists (seed plants and biological soil crusts), soil scientist and anthropologists.