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Deputy Director

Associate Prof Lindsey Gillson

PhD (Oxford)

Office: Room 5.05, HW Pearson Building
Telephone: +27 21 650 5552



Lindsey Gillson joined the Plant Conservation Unit and Botany Department at UCT in April 2006, as a Lecturer in Plant Conservation Biology. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer from 2009 and Associate Professor from 2011.

Lindsey has a BA (Hons) in Pure and Applied Biology from the University of Oxford, an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College, London, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford, specialising in the long-term ecology of east African Savannas. In 2002, she was appointed as the first Trapnell Fellow in African Terrestrial Ecology at the University of Oxford, and developed themes of long-term vegetation change, ecosystem management and conservation in African ecosystems. She initiated a new palaeoecological project in the Kruger National Park and also participated in research in Madagascar, Tanzania and Mozambique. She is currently working on projects in South African biomes, focussing particularly on long-term vegetation dynamics at ecotones. She is a member of PAGES (Past Global Changes) Scientific Steering Committee and is Associate Editor of Anthropocene

In 2008, Lindsey was recipient of the National Research Foundation’s President’s Award for Exceptional Research Potential, the UCT Science Faculty Young Researcher’s Award, and the UCT’s Fellows’ Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievements as a Young Researcher.

Research Interests

  • Applied palaeoecology, conservation and ecosystem management
  • Theoretical ecology: resilience, thresholds, heterogeneity, variability, complexity and non-equilibrium
  • Linking ecological and social systems

Lindsey’s book on palaeoecology, conservation and environmental change was published in 2015.

Current PostGraduate Students



Research Topic

Graduation Date (expected)

Abraham Dabengwa


Reconstructing palaeovegetation sequences at grassland-savanna-woodland biome boundaries in KwaZulu-Natal and related landscape ecological processes in the late Holocene


Glynis Humphrey


The role of humans in the fire, climate and vegetation system of North-east Namibia


Estelle Razanatsoa


Understanding the impact of climate change on the ecosystem in southwest Madagascar


Tsilavo Razafimanantsoa

PhD Climate change and ecosystem dynamics in the Central Highlands of Madagascar (2019)
Cherié Forbes PhD Using palaeoecology to inform sustainable land-use management and ecosystem-based adaptation in response to climate and socio-ecological drivers in the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area and surrounding agricultural lowlands, in the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa (2019)

Successful Past PostGraduate Students and PostDoctoral Researchers



Research Topic

Graduation Date

James MacPherson PhD Benchmarks for the future: Long-term vegetation change at the Forest - Fynbos-Succulent-Karoo ecotones 2017

Malika Virah-Sawmy


Understanding the role of pastoralism and local institutions for promoting ecosystem health in arid South Madagascar


Cherie Forbes


Palaeo-environmental History of Renosterveld, an endangered vegetation type in the Cape Floristic Region


Robyn Powell


Vegetation Change at Cape Point Using Repeat Photographs


Rahab N Kinyanjui


Phytolith Analysis As A Palaeoecological Tool:
Middle-Late Pleistocene Environments In The Olorgesailie Rift Basin, Kenya


Elinor Bremen University of Oxford

DPhil (=PhD)

DPhil research on the palaeoecology of the savanna-grassland ecotone, Mpumalanga.


Fiona Ballantyne, UCT


Palaeoecology and fire history of the Cederberg Wilderness Area.


Malika Virah-Sawmy, University of Oxford

DPhil (=PhD)

DPhil Research on Fragmentation of the Littoral Forests of South-Eastern Madagascar


Dr Anneli Ekblom University of Oxford


Post-Doctoral Research Assistant, Kruger Environments Project, focusing on the fire history in the Kruger and Greater Limpopo Parks


Kristina Duffin University of Oxford

DPhil (=PhD)

Vegetation dynamics in the savanna of southern Kruger National Park, South Africa


Glynis Humphrey

MSc (Minor Dissertation)

Termitaria, herbivory and elephant impact


Michelle Kalamandeen
University of Oxford

MSc (Minor Dissertation)

De-mything the wilderness: implications for protected area planning and management


Research was funded by Care for the Wild International, the Trapnell Fund and the Trapnell-Higgins Family Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, NERC, Arts and Humanities Research Council, National Research Foundation, ACCESS, Natural Environment Research Council, and UCT’s University Research Fund and African Climate and Development Initiative.

Thanks are also due to the Kenya Wildlife Service, COSTECH (Tanzania), South Africa National Parks, Scientific Services, Kruger National Park, and Mpumalanga Provincial Parks Board.



Gillson, L., C. Whitlock & G. Humphrey. (2019). Resilience and fire management in the Anthropocene. Ecology and Society. 24(3):14. DOI:

Breman, E., Ekblom, A., Gillson, L., & Norström, E. (2019). Phytolith-based environmental reconstruction from an altitudinal gradient in Mpumalanga, South Africa, 10,600 BP–present. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 263:104-116

Ekblom A, Shoemaker A, Gillson L, Lane P, Lindholm K-J. (2019) Conservation through Biocultural Heritage—Examples from Sub-Saharan Africa. Land. 8(1):5.

Gillson, L., Biggs, H., Smit, I. P., Virah-Sawmy, M., & Rogers, K. (2019). Finding Common Ground between Adaptive Management and Evidence-Based Approaches to Biodiversity Conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Vol 34:1, 31-34

Cormier-Salem, M-C., Dunham, A. E., Gordon, C., Belhabib, D., Bennas, N., Duminil, J., Egoh, B. N., MohamedElahamer, A. E., Moise, B. F. E., Gillson, L., Haddane, B., Mensah, A., Mourad, A., Randrianasolo, H., Razafindratsima, O. H., Taleb, M. S., Shemdoe, R., Dowo, G., Amekugbe, M., Burgess, N., Foden, W., Niskanen, L., Mentzel, C., Njabo, K. Y., Maoela, M. A., Marchant, R., Walters, M., and Yao, A. C. (2018) Chapter 3: Status, trends and future dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems underpinning nature’s contributions to people. In IPBES: The IPBES regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Africa. Archer, E., Dziba, L., Mulongoy, K. J., Maoela, M. A., and Walters, M. (eds.). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany, pp. 131–206. The IPBES regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Africa

Cramer, M.D., Power, S.C., Belev, A., Gillson, L., Bond, W.J., Hoffman, M.T. and Hedin, L.O. 2018. Are forest‐shrubland mosaics of the Cape Floristic Region an example of alternate stable states? Ecography 42: 1-13. DOI: 10.1111/ecog.03860.

Forbes, C.J., Gillson, L. and Hoffman, M.T. 2018. Shifting baselines in a changing world: identifying management targets in endangered heathlands of the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. Anthropocene 22: 81-93. DOI:

MacPherson, A. J., L. Gillson, and M. T. Hoffman. 2018. Climatic buffering and anthropogenic degradation of a Mediterranean-type shrubland refugium at its semi-arid boundary, South Africa. The Holocene 28(4): 651-666.

Marchant, R., Richer, S., Boles, O., Capitani, C., Courtney-Mustaphi, C., Widgren, M., & Schrijver, A. P. and others including Gillson, L.  2018. Drivers and trajectories of land cover change in East Africa: Human and environmental interactions from 6000 years ago to present. Earth-Science Reviews, 178: 322-378.

Gillson, L. Gell, P. and van Gunten, L. (Eds). 2017. Sustaining Earth’s Biodiversity. Past Global Changes Magazine, vol. 25(2), 76-130. DOI:

Gell, P and Gillson, L 2017. Editorial: Sustaining Earth’s Biodiversity. Past Global Changes Magazine, vol. 25(2), 77

Ekblom, A and Gillson, L. 2017. The importance of paleoecology in the conservation and restoration of cultural landscapes Past Global Changes Magazine, vol. 25(2), 88-89

Balvanera, P., Calderon-Contreras, R., Castro, A.J., Felipe-Lucia, M.R., Geijzendorffer, I.R., Jacobs, S., Martin-Lopez, B., Arbieu, U., Speranza, C.I., Locatelli, B., Harguindeguy, N.P., Mercado, I.R., Spierenburg, M.J., Vallet, A., Lynes, L. and Gillson, L. 2017. Interconnected place-based social–ecological research can inform global sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 29:1–7.

Ekblom, A., Gillson, L. and Notelid, M. (2017) Water Flow, Ecological Dynamics and Management in The Lower Limpopo Valley: A Long-Term View. WIREs Water.

Chin, Anne, Lindsey Gillson, Steven M. Quiring, Donald R. Nelson, Mark Patrick Taylor, Veerle Vanacker, and Daniel Lovegrove. "An evolving Anthropocene for science and society." Anthropocene 13 (2016): 1-3.

Kranabetter, J. M., K. K. McLauchlan, S. K. Enders, J. M. Fraterrigo, P. E. Higuera, J. L. Morris, E. B. Rastetter, R. Barnes, B. Buma, D. G. Gavin, L. M. Gerhart, L. Gillson, P. Hietz, M. C. Mack, B. McNeil, and S. Perakis. 2016. A Framework to Assess Biogeochemical Response to Ecosystem Disturbance Using Nutrient Partitioning Ratios. Ecosystems 19:387-395.

Virah-Sawmy, M., Gillson, L., Gardner, C.J, Anderson, A., Clark, G., Haberle,S.. (2016) A landscape vulnerability framework for identifying integrated conservation and adaptation pathways to climate change: the case of Madagascar’s spiny forest. Landscape Ecol (31) 637–654

Gillson, L. 2015. Biodiversity Conservation and Environmental Change: Using palaeoecology to manage dynamic landscapes in the Anthropocene. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Gillson, L. 2015. Evidence of a tipping point in a southern African savanna? Ecological Complexity 21:78-86.

Altwegg, R., A. West, L. Gillson, and G. F. Midgley. 2014. Impacts of climate change in the Greater Cape Floristic Region. Fynbos. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Gillson, L. & Marchant, R. 2014. From myopia to clarity: sharpening the focus of ecosystem management through the lens of palaeoecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 317-325.

Seddon, A. W. R., A. W. Mackay, A. G. Baker, H. J. B. Birks, E. Breman, C. E. Buck, E. C. Ellis, C. A. Froyd, J. L. Gill, L. Gillson, E. A. Johnson, V. J. Jones, S. Juggins, M. Macias-Fauria, K. Mills, J. L. Morris, D. Nogués-Bravo, S. W. Punyasena, T. P. Roland, A. J. Tanentzap, K. J. Willis, M. Aberhan, E. N. van Asperen, W. E. N. Austin, R. W. Battarbee, S. Bhagwat, C. L. Belanger, K. D. Bennett, H. H. Birks, C. Bronk Ramsey, S. J. Brooks, M. de Bruyn, P. G. Butler, F. M. Chambers, S. J. Clarke, A. L. Davies, J. A. Dearing, T. H. G. Ezard, A. Feurdean, R. J. Flower, P. Gell, S. Hausmann, E. J. Hogan, M. J. Hopkins, E. S. Jeffers, A. A. Korhola, R. Marchant, T. Kiefer, M. Lamentowicz, I. Larocque-Tobler, L. López-Merino, L. H. Liow, S. McGowan, J. H. Miller, E. Montoya, O. Morton, S. Nogué, C. Onoufriou, L. P. Boush, F. Rodriguez-Sanchez, N. L. Rose, C. D. Sayer, H. E. Shaw, R. Payne, G. Simpson, K. Sohar, N. J. Whitehouse, J. W. Williams, and A. Witkowski. 2014. Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology. Journal of Ecology 102:256-267.

Gillson, L. (2013) Patch Dynamics. Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology. Ed. David Gibson. New York:Oxford University Press, 30/9/2013

McGeoch, M.A., Dawson, T.P., and Gillson, L. (2013) Accommodating the human response for realistic adaptation planning: response to Watson and Segan Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28 (10) 574-575

Gillson, L., T. P. Dawson, S. Jack, and M. A. McGeoch. 2013. Accommodating climate change contingencies in conservation strategy. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 28:135-142.

Breman, E., L. Gillson, and K. Willis. 2012. How fire and climate shaped grass-dominated vegetation and forest mosaics in northern South Africa during past millennia. The Holocene 22:1427-1439.

Gillson, L., G. F. Midgley, and J. L. Wakeling. 2012. Exploring the significance of land-cover change in South Africa. South African Journal of Science 108:3 Pages.

Ekblom, A., Gillson, L., Risberg, J., Holmgren, K. & Chidoub, Z. (2012) Rainfall variability and vegetation dynamics of the lower Limpopo Valley, Southern Africa, 500 AD to present. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 363-364, 69-78.

Ekblom, A., & L. Gillson, and M. Notelid. 2011. A Historical Ecology of the Limpopo and Kruger National Parks and Lower Limpopo Valley. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 1:1-29.

Hoffman, M., M. Cramer, L. Gillson, and M. Wallace. 2011. Pan evaporation and wind run decline in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa (1974-2005): implications for vegetation responses to climate change. Climatic Change 109:437-452.

Gillson, L., R. J. Ladle, and M. B. Araújo. 2011. Baselines, patterns and process. Pages 31-44 in R. J. Ladle, and R. J. Whittaker, editors. Conservation Biogeography. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Ladle, R. J., P. Jepson, and L. Gillson. 2011. Social values and conservation biogeography. Pages 13-30 in R. J. Ladle, and R. J. Whittaker., editors. Conservation Biogeography,. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford.

Richardson, F. D., M. T. Hoffman, and L. Gillson. 2010. Modelling the complex dynamics of vegetation, livestock and rainfall in a semiarid rangeland in South Africa. African Journal of Range & Forage Science 27:125-142.

Ekblom, A., & L. Gillson. 2010a. Fire history and fire ecology of Northern Kruger (KNP) and Limpopo National Park (PNL), southern Africa. The Holocene 20:1063-1077.

Ekblom, A., & L. Gillson. 2010b. Hierarchy and scale: testing the long term role of water, grazing and nitrogen in the savanna landscape of Limpopo National Park (Mozambique). Landscape Ecology 25:1529-1546.

Ekblom, A. & L. Gillson (2010) Dung fungi as indicators of past herbivore abundance, Kruger and Limpopo National Park. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 296, 14-27.

Virah-Sawmy, M., K. J. Willis, and L. Gillson. (2010) Evidence for drought and forest declines during the recent megafaunal extinctions in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography 37:506-519.

Virah-Sawmy, M., L. Gillson, and K. J. Willis. 2009. How does spatial heterogeneity influence resilience to climatic changes? Ecological dynamics in southeast Madagascar. Ecological Monographs 79:557-574.

Gillson, L., and A. Ekblom. 2009. Resilience and Thresholds in Savannas: Nitrogen and Fire as Drivers and Responders of Vegetation Transition. Ecosystems 12:1189-1203.

Hoffman, M.T., Carrick, P.C., Gillson, L. West, A.G. (2009) Drought, climate change and vegetation response in the succulent karoo biome, South Africa. South African Journal of Science 105: 54-60

Gillson, L. 2009. Landscapes in Time and Space. Landscape Ecology 24:149-155.

Gillson, L., and A. Ekblom. 2009. Untangling anthropogenic and climatic influence on riverine forest in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 18:171-185.

Ladle, R. J., and L. Gillson. 2009. The (im)balance of nature: a public perception time-lag? Public Understanding of Science 18:229-242.

Virah-Sawmy, M., K. J. Willis, and L. Gillson. 2009. Threshold response of Madagascar's littoral forest to sea-level rise. Global Ecology and Biogeography 18:98-110.

Willis, K. J., L. Gillson, and M. Virah-Sawmy. 2008. Nature or nurture: the ambiguity of C4 grasslands in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography 35:1741-1742.

Gillson, L., A. Ekblom, K. Willis, and C. Froyd. (2008). Holocene palaeo-invasions: the link between pattern, process and scale in invasion ecology? Landscape Ecology 23:757-769.

Duffin, K. I., L. Gillson, and K. J. Willis (2008) Testing the sensitivity of charcoal as an indicator of fire events in savanna environments: quantitative predictions of fire proximity, area and intensity. The Holocene 18: 279-291

Gillson, L. and Hoffman, M.T. (2007) Grazing and "degradation". Science 316 ( 5831): 1565 - 1567

Gillson, L. and Duffin, K. (2007) Thresholds of potential concern as benchmarks in the management of African savannas. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society of London B.362: 309-319

Willis, K.J., Gillson, L. and Knapp, S. (2007) Biodiversity Hotspots through Time: an Introduction. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society of London B.362: 169-176

Kalamandeen, M. and Gillson, L. (2007) De-mything 'Wilderness': Implications for Protected Area Designation and Management. Biodiversity Conservation 16:165-182

Gillson, L. and Hoffman, M.T. (2007) Rangeland Ecology in a Changing World. Science 315: 53-54

Gillson, L. (2006) A "Large Infrequent Disturbance" in and East African Savanna. African Journal of Ecology 44:458-467

Willis, K., Gillson, L., Brncic, T., and Figueroa-Rangel, B. (2005) Providing baselines for biodiversity measurement. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution. 20 (3): 107-108

Gillson, L., Lindsay, K., Bulte, E., and Damiana, E. (2005) Elephants, Ecology, and Nonequilibrium? Science  307: 673-674

Gillson, L., (2004) Evidence of Hierarchical Patch Dynamics in an East African Savanna? Landscape Ecology 19: 883–894.

Gillson, L., (2004) Testing non-equilibrium theories in savannas: 1400 years of vegetation change in Tsavo National Park, Kenya. Ecological Complexity 1: 281–298

Bulte , E., Damania, R., Gillson, L. and Lindsay, K. (2004) Space - The Final Frontier for Economists and Elephants. Science 306: 420-421

Gillson, L. and Willis, K. J. (2004) As Earth’s testimonies tell’: wilderness conservation in a changing world Ecology Letters 7: 990–998

Willis, K., Gillson, L. and Brncic, T. (2004) Virgin Rainforest and Conservation Science 305: 944-945

Willis, K.J., Gillson, L., and Brncic, T. (2004) How “Virgin” is Virgin Rainforest? Science 304: 402-403

Gillson, L., Waldron, S. and Willis, K.J. (2004) Interpreting soil δ 13C as an indicator of spatial and temporal vegetation change in African Savannas. Journal of Vegetation Science 15: 339-350

Gillson, L., Sheridan, M., Brockington, D. (2003) Representing environments in flux: case studies from East Africa. Area 35 (4): 371-389

Viles , H., Gillson, L. (2003) African Environments Themed Papers: Introduction. Area 35 (4): 341-342

Gillson , L., and Lindsay, K. (2003) Ivory and ecology – changing perspectives on elephant management and the international trade in ivory. Environmental Science and Policy 6: 411-419