Cherié Forbes Attends CapeNature's Quarterly Ecological Meeting

12 Jun 2018 - 12:00

On 22 May 2018, a group of about 30 staff members from CapeNature working in the west of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) attended their Quarterly Ecological Meeting (QEM) at the Porterville Library in Porterville, Western Cape. CapeNature is an organisation which aims to conserve nature for a sustainable future by managing, conserving and promoting human, natural and heritage assets through best practice, access, benefit sharing and sustainable use. The QEM was attended by reserve field rangers and managers, regional conservation services staff, regional managers as well as staff from CapeNature’s scientific unit – regional ecologists, taxonomists, wetlands experts, etc. The purpose of the meeting was to allow a space to reflect on and discuss past and upcoming CapeNature activities in the region. The day included presentations which ranged from specific feedback on the development of some of CapeNature’s Protected Area Management Plans (PAMPs) to feedback and a status update on the Western Cape’s borehole drilling (Figure 1) as a result of the recent drought experienced in the Cape. Other presentations included topics such as avian influenza affecting both domestic and wild bird populations, biological control being implemented at some reserves as a means to complement their existing practices to control the spread of invasive alien plants, Cedar rehabilitation in the Cederberg as well as Krom River fish rehabilitation. In addition, Cherié Forbes, a doctoral candidate at the Plant Conservation Unit (PCU), was invited to present on her PhD research. Her presentation showcased preliminary pollen and charcoal results from two focal sites showing how vegetation and fire history has changed over ca. 130 years at the lowland agricultural site called Rhenostervlei Farm (RV3) and ca. 10 000 years at the upland conservation site called Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area (GWWA), which is one of the CapeNature reserves (Figure 2). Furthermore, the purpose of her presentation was to demonstrate the value of adopting a long-term palaeoecological perspective as well as a system dynamics perspective in order to better understand social-ecological systems. This approach can contribute towards sustainable land-use management for both agriculture and biodiversity conservation in landscapes of the CFR. Cherié used a case study from Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve to illustrate the usefulness of multi-proxy palaeo-data to investigate vegetation change over time in relation to drivers such as climate and land-use change with the aim of considering baseline data to inform current conservation management targets that promote biodiversity conservation and ecological resilience (Forbes et al., 2018).

Figure 1: Jeanne Gouws (Freshwater ecologist at CapeNature's Scientific Services department) presenting on CapeNature’s compliance screening tool which can be used for any future large-scale borehole drilling in the Western Cape region. This screening tool considers the following: NEMA Section 2 Avoidance module; Ecological Senistivity Module; Legal Compliance Module; and strategic consideration.

Cherié is currently collecting further palaeoecological data from the sediment cores retrieved at the study focal sites in order to add to the environmental history. These include indicators that tell us about water quality and climate change (diatoms); soil erosion regulation (element composition of the sediment, magnetic susceptibility and loss on ignition) and herbivory (dung fungal spores). Furthermore, Cherié is also looking forward to working closely with CapeNature staff during the upcoming stakeholder engagement component of her study which forms part of the systems dynamics approach and will include interviews and multi-stakeholder workshops. Stakeholders will include commercial farmers and conservation managers as well as members from key land management institutions at the local governance and policy level – e.g. SANBI, CapeNature, CSIR, Bergrivier Municipality, Western Cape Government, etc. The stakeholder engagement component will aid in describing the land-use issues we want to investigate in the general study area and form the basis for gaining deeper insights of the cause-and-effect relationships between factors that influence land-use management (e.g. environmental, social, economic, political, etc.).

Figure 2: Google earth image showing the general study area of Cherié’s study in the Berg River Catchment, Western Cape, including both of the study focal sites - the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area (wetlands of interest are marked GWWA 001-009) and the lowland site, Rhenostervlei Farm, which is surrounded by agricultural lands (wetland marked RV3).

Cherié would like to thank Marius Wheeler, Ecological Co-ordinator at CapeNature, for the invitation to present at the QEM as well as for the continued support that he and the GWWA staff members have provided during her project.

Cherié’s PhD research is funded by the David and Elaine Potter Foundation and the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL).

~ Article and images supplied by Cherié Forbes.