Arid Zone Ecology Forum

A Non-Profit Organisation focused on research in the arid zone of southern Africa

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Alastair Potts

Presentation Title: "Tracking thicket through space and time"

Dr. Alastair Potts recently obtained his PhD from the University of Cape Town in the field of Botany. His thesis explored the evolutionary history of the Albany Subtropical Thicket using a combination of distribution modelling and phylogeography (investigating the distribution of genetic lineages across the landscape). He was recently awarded the Bronze Medal (also known as the Junior Medal) by the South African Association of Botanists for the outstanding work presented in his PhD.




Prof. Timm Hoffman

Presentation Title: Long-term vegetation change in the Thicket and Arid Zone biomes of Southern Africa and its implications for conservation.”

I am interested in how land use and climate have affected the vegetation of southern Africa particularly over the last 100 years.  I use several approaches including repeat fixed-point photography, ecological surveys and experimentation to understand the impact of climate and land use on different components in the landscape.  The findings from my research have implications for conservation and management policy and also for the current focus on the long-term effects of climate change on the biota of southern Africa.  I have also established a long-term, interdisciplinary research programme in Namaqualand where the impact of natural resource use on the region’s landscapes is understood in terms of the changing social, agricultural and ecological environments of the region.   

Prof. William Bond

Presentation Title: Why are arid zone ecosystems so different in Africa vs South America and Australia?

William Bond is an Emeritus Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town and Chief Scientist of the South African Environmental Observation Network. He is an ecologist with broad interests in the processes most strongly influencing vegetation change in the past and present, including fire, vertebrate herbivory, atmospheric CO 2 and climate change. He has also worked on plant-animal mutualisms and on plant form and function. He has particular interests in grasslands and savanna ecosystems and in winter rainfall shrublands. He has served on the Boards of the South African National Botanical Institute and of Cape Nature and on the Editorial Boards of several journals. He has published over 150 papers and has co-authored three books. He was elected a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, in 2013.  

Prof. Karen Esler

Presentation Title: “Ecological restoration: scaling up, drilling down.”

Karen Esler is a professor in the Department of Conservation Ecology & Entomology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Her research focuses on an understanding of how drivers of change (environmental change, over-exploitation, habitat fragmentation and alien invasion) influence plant population and vegetation community structure and processes. This knowledge, embedded in social-ecological systems, contributes to best-practice management, restoration and conservation actions.  


Dr. Susi Vetter

Presentation Title: The link between culture, nature and wellbeing – an unexplored opportunity for engagement in biodiversity custodianship

Susi is an ecologist an ecologist interested in the reciprocal relationship between people and their natural environment. Much of her research has focused on communal rangelands. She is also interested in the relationship between nature, culture and human well-being and the nature and importance of cultural ecosystem services.  She has worked on land degradation in the grasslands of the Sterkspruit District, rangeland dynamics and the role of key resources in the Richtersveld, the cultural values attached to nature in the Albany Thicket and the mechanisms and feedbacks involved in bush encroachment in the semi-arid savannas of the Smaldeel in the Eastern Cape. She is active at the research-policy interface around communal rangelands. She has a PhD in Botany from the University of Cape Town and is now based in the Botany Department at Rhodes University.  


Prof. Sue Milton and Richard Dean

Presentation Title: Tierberg Karoo Research Centre, Prince Albert: History, achievements and opportunities.


Research Associate, 

SAEON Arid Node


Long-term Karoo vegetation and avifaunal dynamics and ecological restoration. Richard is currently registered for a MA in the history of bird collecting. We are also interested in conservation of Wolwekraal Nature Reserve and in management of Renu-Karoo Veld Restoration cc (our business).

Prof. Nigel Barker, Botany, Rhodes University

NPB did his BSc and Honours at Wits University (1980-1983), and was then employed for 7 years at what was then the Botanical Research Institute (now gone through various iterations and part of SANBI). During that time he did an MSc part time on the taxonomy of two fynbos grass genera, and then headed to UCT for a PhD under the supervision of Peter Linder. He spent 5 years windsurfing and messing about in a DNA lab before completing his PhD on the systematics of what was to become a new subfamily of grasses. He post-doc-ed at UWC and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, before joining Rhodes University in 1997 as a contract lecturer. Shortly the after he was appointed as full time staff member, which probably had something to do with him being awarded the NRF’s president’s award (P-rating). Still at Rhodes, and now a professor, he has expanded his interests beyond plant systematics into biodiversity studies in a range of guises. He conceived and leads the Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme, which currently has research activities in Angola, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and in various mountainous places in South Africa. 


Dr. Winston Trollope

Presentation Title: Guidelines for Prescribed Burning in African Grasslands and Savanna

I am a bred and born South African having grown up on a farm in the Komga district in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. After schooling I enrolled at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg where I obtained a BSc Agric. (1962),  MSc Agric. (1971) and  PhD (1984) majoring in Rangeland Science. My interest in fire ecology was kindled by Professor J.D. Scott at the University of Natal, who was one of the pioneers in fire research in South Africa. Arising from this interest and as part of my responsibilities as Pasture Officer in the Ciskei region of South Africa, I identified the encroachment of undesirable plant species into natural rangeland as one of the main problems facing the livestock industry in this region. This focus formed part of my MSc project where I studied the encroachment and control of macchia vegetation in the mountainous areas of the Eastern Cape Province.  I was awarded a M.Sc.(Agric) degree in 1971 for this work and received international recognition by being invited to deliver a paper at the  Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Congress on "Fire in Africa" held in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1971. Attending this conference proved to be a turning point in both my research career and fire ecology in South Africa, as it became apparent to me that we in Africa had completely ignored the effects of type and intensity of fire on the vegetation, having focussed only on the effects of season and frequency of burning. This realization led to an investigation, as part of my PhD, on the effects of type and intensity of  fire on the grass and tree components of the vegetation in African savannas. This research has resulted in a greater understanding of the role of fire in savanna ecosystems and a significant improvement in the use of fire as a range management practice for both domestic livestock systems and wildlife management. After retiring from the University of Fort Hare in 2005 my wife Lynne and I became associates of Working on Fire where we are involved in fire research programs focussed on developing techniques to promote fire management in African grasslands and savannas.