Biodiversity Research

The conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services is underpinned by research, be it at the species, ecosystem or landscape level. Research broadens our knowledge base and shapes management plans and conservation practices. The patchwork nature of the forestry landscape provides a multitude of research opportunities, many of which benefit species, ecosystems and landscape that stretch far beyond forestry’s borders.

Bird Ringing at Mashonamien Forest, in Sappi’s Grootgeluk plantation Mpumalanga

Since 2003, Don Williams, the former Chairman of Birdlife Lowveld has been ringing birds in the Mashonamien indigenous forest bordering the Elands River Valley.

Like most of Sappi’s landholdings, Grootgeluk has a significant amount of natural vegetation interspersed within the planted compartments. These unplanted areas provide a range of habitats from indigenous forests, grasslands and riverine areas and wetlands”, explains Peta Hardy, Sappi Environmental Analyst.

The Mashonamien Forest is 556 hectares, nestled in a kloof at the end of a valley. A total of 481 birds have been ringed from 2003 to 2017, representing 45 species, some of these have been ringed on several occasions including three different Red-capped Robin Chats (Cossypha natalensis) that have been recaptured after 9, 8 and 6 years, indicating these birds have a longer lifespan than one might think and also this habitat in which the birds are residing, must be acceptable to them, otherwise they would move on.

Don’s diligence and expertise have furnished us with some fascinating information about the birds found here, providing information that has improved our understanding of the bird species diversity and species longevity in this particular forest type. By improving our understanding and knowledge base, we can make more informed management plans and conservation decisions”, Peta concludes.

Photo credit: Peta Hardy

Bark Research in Sappi’s Sudwala plantation, Mpumalanga

There is more to bark than you think!” informs Peta Hardy, Sappi Environmental Analyst

Peta should know, during December 2020 she oversaw a research team from the University of Pretoria and Rhodes University, as they conducted research that would enable them to gain a better understanding of how and why the plant allocates carbon to different structures and functions. For example, in the production of thick or thin bark which is likely to have many adaptive drivers including fire protection and the transportation of water up and down the stem.

Knowing more about the structure and function of a tree, and in particular its bark, enables an understanding to be obtained on how different species cope with change and emphasises the interconnectedness of plant strategies when faced with changing environmental conditions. Furthermore, from a management perspective, it can help ensure vegetation management is done appropriately”, Peta concludes.

The researchers took bark samples from several species and multiple age classes within each species. Samples along the stem in 1 m intervals from the base of the tree were collected, as well as the longest branch from the top of the tree. Vessels within these bark/stem samples will be evaluated along with other measures that will enable the researchers to conclude how different species allocate carbon.

Photo credit: Peta Hardy