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Plant Conservation Unit year-end round up

17 Dec 2021 - 10:00

The year began on a high note with Plant Conservation Unit (PCU) Director Timm Hoffman receiving the SAAB 2021 silver medal award as well as being inaugurated as a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. Deputy Director Lindsey Gillson became a full Professor on 1 January. Following the restrictions placed on our movements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 2021 got off to a positive start with the arrival of several international early career researchers, Fetra Randriatsara from Madagascar, Glory Oden from Nigeria and Dr Sabine Prader from Italy. Several successful field trips took place, including multiple repeat photography trips and coring trips in Table Mountain National Park and Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.

In April, disaster struck when the PCU was burned down in the fire which spread from the slopes of Table Mountain. Despite the devastation, the PCU team kept working through this period in order to meet its teaching and research commitments. Temporary lab facilities were kindly provided by colleagues in other departments. We were overwhelmed by messages of support and are also grateful to the Mapula Trust for the significant financial support they provided to the PCU in the immediate aftermath of the fire while numerous smaller individual donations have made us realise that we are part of a large and supportive community who see value in what we do.

The PCU successfully completed our five-year quality assurance review and received recognition as well as constructive suggestions from our internal and international reviewers. Over the review period, the Unit produced nearly 100 peer reviewed publications and 34 postgraduates and postdocs. The five-year review can be found here.

Productivity this year continued with over 35 publications including book chapters, peer-reviewed research articles and popular articles published in 2021. It has also been a great year of online conferencing, with ~29 international, national and local conference presentations. PCU was well-represented at the Arid Zone Ecology Forum, UCT’s Sustainable Development Summit, and the International Congress for Conservation Biology.

The Plant Conservation Unit (PCU) rounded off the year with a research symposium, held on Tuesday 7 December 2021 at The Range in Tokai. The event was a great opportunity to highlight the PCU’s research, and to share these findings with fellow UCT colleagues and stakeholders from various other organisations such as SANParks, Cape Nature and the Grootbos Foundation. We also bid farewell to several students and colleagues, some of whom have submitted their dissertations and others who are moving on to new opportunities. We celebrate two PhD thesis submissions (Cherie Dirk and Tsilavo Razafimanantsoa) and one PhD graduation (Dr Gina Arena) this year. The event gave us time to reflect on what has been lost, gained and accomplished.  

We close the year on a positive note, acknowledging our contributions, showing gratitude to our colleagues, collaborators and donors, and looking to the future with determination and optimism. We thank the Dean of the Faculty of Science and the Head of the Department of Biological Sciences who have both helped us to think beyond the fire and to plan for the future. We look forward to continuing our research in 2022 and to meeting the challenges that lie ahead.