Ecology & Sustainability

Last update: 21 January 2018

Understanding ecological processes is key to addressing societal and conservation issues.

The "Ecology & Conservation" theme is organised around 3 themes:

  1. Ecological processes operating at human-wildlife interfaces
  2. Coexistence of humans and wildlife
  3. Source-use ecology



The Ecology & Sustainability petal supports research focused on ecological processes operating at human-wildlife interfaces. In particular, it seeks to understand the resilience of socio-ecological systems. The three main focus areas for the coming years will be ecosystem services, food-webs and the drivers of the spatial distribution, movements and interactions of keystone organisms.

1. Services provided by the social-ecological systems

  • Capacity to continue delivering desired ecosystem services in the face of disturbance and change;
  • Interactions between ecological and socio-economic processes: the implications of climate change.

2. Food-webs and the functioning of social-ecological systems

  • Sustainable use and/or regulation animal populations (including invasive species), interactions between bottom-up and top-down processes.
  • Vegetation: spatial patterns, structure, composition and primary production, including the production capacity of timber and non-timber forest resources.
  • Food webs: from herbivory to predation and parasitism.
  • Interactions between biodiversity and ecosystem function along disturbance gradients (including carbon and nutrient resource stocks and flows).

3. The drivers of distribution, movements and interactions of organisms (wildlife and/or livestock, dispersion of plants) in human-wildlife interfaces

  • Coexistence between livestock and wildlife, including competition & disease transmission.
  • Impact of herbivores on plants and water quantity and quality.
  • Indirect effects of predation.

Improving coexistence between humans and wildlife

Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) occurs when the requirements of wildlife impact negatively on those of human populations, with costs both to humans and wildlife. In Africa, HWC is a major issue, and commonly occurs in areas adjacent to protected areas (Le Bel et al., 2011).

HWC is of major concern to wildlife conservation and human wellbeing (Treves et al. 2009). For example, predation on livestock (stock-raiding) is one of the major reasons behind the decline of large carnivore populations (Michalski et al., 2006). Similarly, many African elephants are legally or illegally killed each year due to HWC (Graham et al. 2009).

Human/wildlife conflict also can bring about both direct (human fatalities, loss of livestock or crops) and indirect (time and money) costs on humans. Crop damage is the most prevalent type of HWC in Africa (Lamarque et al. 2009). Animals involved in crop raiding are mainly elephants, rodents (e.g. rats), primates (e.g. baboons), birds and herbivores. The SADC Technical Committee on Wildlife identified HWC as one of the main problems for Africa's rural populations in terms of personal security and economic loss.

In a context of dynamic human demography, the Ecology & Conservation petal will develop research-oriented actions to find sustainable and efficient solutions which help rural communities improve their capacity to live with problem animals.

Resource-use ecology

The African Miombo woodland is the largest dry forest community in the world, covering an area of 2.8 million km2 in Southern Africa. This biome is dominated by trees of genera Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia and their associates (Lowore 1999; Malmer 2007). Miombo woodlands strongly contribute to the livelihoods of more than 100 million people in urban and rural areas through the provision of ecosystem goods (particularly timber, fuel wood, construction poles, and non-timber forest products) and services (watershed and soil protection).

Miombo is the primary energy source throughout the region, for both rural and urban poor populations. Across the Miombo as a whole, wood production exceeds consumption. Climate variability, fire (both anthropogenic and natural) and clearance for agriculture are major drivers of miombo woodland degradation (Grundy, 1993, Chapungu et al., 2014). Securing Miombo conservation and sustainable use is then critical for the socio-economic development of Southern Africa.

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are defined as all biological materials, other than timber, which are extracted from forests for human use. They include game animals, forage, fruits, foliage, mushrooms, and medicinal plants. Promoting an optimal use and sustainable management of NTFP resources not only supports basic livelihoods and food security, but can also provide a strong incentive for involvement in the conservation of dry forest ecosystems in Southern Africa. In this context, optimal use means bringing higher levels of value-added for forest products which would otherwise be consumed on a subsistence basis or wasted.

Unlocking the livelihood potential of forests requires the designing, testing and implementing of innovative models for sustainable management. For example, the legal production of wild meat has significant potential for addressing challenges of food security and conservation of wildlife resources at human-wildlife interfaces. In recent decades, several southern African countries (Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have decentralized state decision-making to local stakeholders, thus enabling them to benefit from wildlife-based land-uses. Although successful in Zimbabwe on commercial farmlands where substantial areas were converted to game ranches, the decentralization approach has been less straightforward on communal lands.

In this context, the Ecology & Conservation petal aims at developing research activities that promote innovative models for sustainable use of NTFP (including wildlife) that involve Public-Private-Community partnerships in a framework of multipurpose (multi-resources) forest management.

Implementation Strategy

This vision will be realized through appropriate ecological research, in transdisciplinary frameworks, capacity building, and sharing of knowledge with stakeholders as well as scientists.

Capacity building will focus on postgraduate students at MPhil and PhD levels. Short courses on statistics, GIS, field surveys and vegetation analysis and mapping will be provided as a way of capacitating students with research techniques.

Sharing of knowledge will focus on scientific publications (refereed journals and book chapters), seminar and conference presentations. Stakeholder workshops will also be an important means to increase the impact of the work on the functioning of the socio-ecosystems.

Last update: 21 January 2018

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