What does it take to rescue a threatened habitat or to retrieve a threatened species from the brink of extinction?
This is the critical question asked by a collaborative team of researchers and practitioners in their latest round of funding.
At its core is a collaborative partnership – comprising researchers from Stellenbosch University and the City of Cape Town – who have focussed on the restoration of lowland fynbos habitat and species since 2012. Their focus, Cape Flats Sand Fynbos (CFSF), is a critically endangered vegetation type in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa which is threatened by habitat loss and alien tree invasion. The primary aim of this long-term partnership has been to ensure that the unique biodiversity of this ecosystem, confined to the City of Cape Town, is appropriately restored to its former glory.
The latest award, an Anglo American 2021 Nature Positive Grant, represents the third phase of the collaborative operational and academic research (2022-2025) focused primarily on Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, a conservation area to the North of the City. The reserve encompasses 1 500 ha of lowland vegetation including 500 ha of critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, the majority of which is highly degraded by dense stands of the alien Australian wattle, Acacia saligna. Through the collaborative partnership with the City, Profs Karen Esler and Patricia Holmes (Dept. Conservation Ecology & Entomology) will team up with horticulturalists from SU Botanical Gardens, Vula Environmental Services and FynbosLife to work on three broad aspects. Firstly, to optimize large-scale propagation outcomes for species that did not perform well from previous attempts at direct sowing into restored Cape Flats Sand Fynbos habitat. Secondly, to investigate how seed coating technology can help to overcome barriers to establishment from field-sown seed. This technology has been used extensively in Australia and the USA to improve restoration outcomes, particularly in drylands. And thirdly, to investigate optimal propagation techniques for Species of Conservation Concern with the aim of establishing new subpopulations in the field. Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is rich in endemic plant species (16) and Red List threatened species (108), therefore improved species restoration could reduce the level of threat for some of these species. Each of this project’s successes will stem the tide of biodiversity loss, instead making a significant contribution to the restoration of the Sand Fynbos ecosystem. Gains such as these, help us move closer to an envisaged Nature Positive goal: where humanity is able to add more value to nature than what we extract.
The team is currently seeking a suitable student in possession of an Honours degree (for MSc) or MSc (for PhD) in plant ecology or indigenous horticulture; if this sounds like something up your street, please contact Professor Esler, firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on how to apply. Applicants must demonstrate a keen interest in restoration ecology, with experience in vegetation survey, propagation techniques and seed technologies being an advantage. A valid driving license is essential.