A youth spent growing up in Zimbabwe and subsequent studies at various field sites across southern Africa have left me with a deep love and respect for Africa’s landscapes and biodiversity. My PhD at the University of Cape Town investigated the role of Acacia erioloba as a keystone to biodiversity in the Kalahari, and I have been dabbling in trying to understand how components of ecosystems interact ever since, particularly in more arid systems. I have been involved in the Arid Zone Ecology Forum (www.azef.co.za), a research forum of researchers and managers from arid zones, for a number of years, chairing the forum from 2007 – 2009.
Over the years my research has been within the realm of community ecology, how disturbance influences ecosystems, and the importance of biodiversity in the provision of ecosystem services. I am also interested in how climate change might influence biodiversity patterns and processes.
Ecosystem services (ES) have become popular as a motivation for conserving biodiversity, but the role of biodiversity in ES is complex and depends on the intricate ways in which ecosystem components interact. The argument has been made that although nice to have, biodiversity is not essential to the continued existence of human beings, because as a species, we rely on monoculture farmlands for food, and even indirect ecological services like carbon sequestration and water flow regulation can be delivered by low diversity systems. However, some ecosystem services, particularly those provided by organisms at higher levels of the food chain, do decline with a loss of biodiversity (e.g. pest control and pollination). In addition, loss of diversity leaves systems vulnerable to species loss through climate change and other disturbances.
My current focus, therefore, is on ecosystem services that rely on biodiversity, and how we can best manage systems to maintain these services. I'm currently involved in work on crop pollination, pest control and rangeland restoration. Our work on crop pollination and pest control takes place in the mango growing area of Limpopo Province, in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere. The project is a European Union-funded exchange programme (Marie Curie IRSES), with Dr. Frank van Veen at the University of Exeter (Falmouth Campus) and Dr. Elisa Thébault at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. Visit the Networks webpage to find out more.
I am currently a Lead Author on the Rapid Assessment of Pollination for the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Chapter Three: Spatial and Temporal Trends in Pollinators and Pollination Services), and the SANBI contact for the United Nations Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD).