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Graduation: Faculties of Business and Management Sciences Official start: December 12 @ 9:00 am. Duration: 2h 30m

MTech students

The Kgalagadi Lion Project

Maya Beukes: Spatial and temporal variation of lion (Panthera leo) diet within the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Otto Beukes: Drivers of lion (Panthera leo) demography in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park covers approximately 3.6 million hectares over South Africa and Botswana. Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP) comprises of the South African section, whereas Gemsbok National Park makes up the Botswana section. In KGNP, lions play a crucial role in promoting tourism and maintaining ecological functioning. The lion population in the KGNP is highly vulnerable to the effects of anthropogenic factors and environmental fluctuations. This is due to their low population size, relative isolation and the arid and resource poor environment in which they occur. An additional threat to the persistence of the KGNP lion population has been identified, when recent census data showed a significant skew in the sex ratio in favor of males. A sex-biased population in lions can lead to reduced reproductive success and increased incidences of infanticide from incoming male coalitions. If this trend persists it could lead to a collapse in the KGNP lion population.

Sex skews can be related to a number of factors such as changes in resource availability, social factors and anthropogenic interferences. The factors that have triggered the sex skew in the KGNP lion population are poorly understood and require further investigation. The primary hypothesis is that changes in lion diet and human-wildlife conflict have resulted in a change in lion demographic and ecological interactions. Understanding the dynamics of lion demography, diet, as well as the drivers and limiting factors thereof plays a critical role in informing management decisions and actions that will maintain lion persistence, biodiversity, tourism and stakeholder mandates in KGNP.

mtech current maya ottoMaya Beukes has a Bachelor of Technology in Nature Conservation from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Her work experience includes Reserve Manager of Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area and Rondevlei Nature Reserve. In 2010 she was appointed by the City of Cape Town in partnership with the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust as Area Manager for the Southern Suburbs Area of the City of Cape Town.

Otto Beukes has a Bachelor of Technology in Nature Conservation from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. His work experience includes field ranger for the City of Cape Town Biodiversity Management Department, Project Coordinator for the Guttural Toad Eradication Programme for the City of Cape Town’s Invasive Species Management Department, management of the Working on Fire team for the City of Cape Town and compilation of an Operational Environmental Management Plan for the sustainable ecological management, hunting operations and tourism of Ibenstein Game Farm.

They can be contacted at mayabeukes@hotmail.com or otto.beukes@yahoo.com

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 Photographs: Maya and Otto Beukes

Habitat suitability modelling for the klipspringer

Richardt Smith: Habitat suitability modelling for the klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) in Table Mountain National Park.

mtech-current-smithThe klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus subsp. oreotragus) population of the Cape Peninsula became extinct in about 1930. An effort to re-establish a viable population of klipspringer on the Cape Peninsula Mountains was initiated in 1999. A total number of 56 klipspringers were re-introduced into Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) from the period 1999 – 2005. Re-introduced individuals have established territories in certain preferred habitats. Although most occupied territories are known by Park management, not all suitable habitats across the Park have been identified through modelling and mapping. Furthermore, not all the contributing factors that prevent klipspringer from occupying other potential suitable habitats are known. Therefore, an explanation as to why this species would prefer one suitable habitat over another suitable habitat. As such, habitat suitability for klipspringer in TMNP is relatively unknown to managers and scientists of the Park.  

By constructing a Geographic Information System (GIS) based habitat suitability model which incorporates presence data and key environmental factors, one can get an idea where these suitable habitats or niches occur within the boundaries of the Park. The Maximum Entropy (Maxent) modelling tool will be used in this study. This multi-purpose machine learning tool models a species’ distribution with available information on where the species was observed to occur. These occurrence points are combined with data on environmental variables, and using GIS the distribution of the species can be estimated within the geographical space.

Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area

Taryn Joshua: Spatial variability of macro-benthic invertebrate assemblages in the Kogelberg region, focusing on the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area

Supervisors: Dr R. Toefy (CPUT), Dr C. Sparks (CPUT) & Dr T. Samaai (DEA)

img mtech students taryn joshuaThe Betty’s Bay MPA, is one of 23 South African MPA’s. It is situated within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, on the south-west coast of South Africa. The Betty’s Bay MPA was established to protect the endangered African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), abalone (Haliotis midae), the over exploited west coast rock lobster (Jasus lalandii) and line fish species such as geelbek (Atractoscion aequidens) and snoek (Thyrsites atun).

Recent studies have shown that an increase in the population of J. lalandii within the area, due to a range shift, may have resulted in a decrease in benthic community diversity. The management of the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area (viz. CapeNature) therefore required information regarding the current spatial variability of benthic communities to (a) obtain baseline information on the diversity, abundance and distribution of macro-benthic invertebrates and (b) assess the potential for expanding the MPA and declaring it a Category 1 (no-take) MPA.

Baseline data of macro-benthic invertebrates was collected and analysed using photo-quadrats of the rocky reefs, collected by SCUBA divers, at stations inside and outside the MPA as well as shallow (10m – 13m) and deep (19m – 24m) depths. Data collected and calculated from the photo-quadrats included abundance, species richness, diversity, percentage cover, evenness and species distribution. Comparisons between stations were made using this data and significant differences found between deep and shallow stations as well as between stations inside and outside the MPA. Explanations for these differences are currently being researched.

Taryn Joshua has a BTech in Nature Conservation. Her work experience includes a WIL year in Kruger National Park, an internship with the City of Cape Town Environmental Resource Management department, and tutoring position at CPUT.

Fynbos bird assemblages as a bio-indicator of passive restoration success in a riparian habitat of the Berg River, Western Cape, South Africa.

Joy Mangachena

Supervisor: Dr. S. Geerts   Co-Supervisors: Dr. M. Gaertner, Dr. J. Kioko

img mtech students mangachenaInvasive alien plant species pose a major threat to global biodiversity by displacing native vegetation and transforming habitats to form novel ecosystems and river systems, because of their dynamic hydrology, are particularly prone to invasion. Most riparian habitats in South Africa have thus been heavily invaded, leading to a significant decrease in water runoff. In response to the invasive alien plant problem, a national programme, Working for Water (WfW), was instituted by the government as a management intervention to control the spread of invasive alien plants and at the same time securing water resources through clearing. WfW employs a passive restoration approach, removing the existing invader through clearing and limiting or preventing regeneration.

There is a need to evaluate the recovery of native vegetation and ecosystem processes in cleared environments. Here we use the Berg River in the Western Cape of South Africa as a case study. Most of the Berg River has been invaded by Eucalyptus camaldulensis, but due to efforts by WfW and private landowners, large parts of the river has been cleared. We assess the success of passive restoration (which involves removing the invader and leaving the land to “self repair” without further initiatives such as planting native species) by using bird assemblages as bio-indicators.

Bird surveys are done in cleared sites of ages between 1 and 9 years since clearing. Habitat characteristics such as vegetation structure, plant species composition, flowers and fruits, surrounding land use, canopy cover and ground cover that influence bird assemblages are also determined. Preliminary results show bird richness and abundance and trophic guilds to come very close to a pristine condition 6 to 9 years after clearing and are capable of returning to pre-infestation states without the aid of active restoration.