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Research Associate Symposium participants (from left), Dr. Lisa Heider (SRU, PhD graduate), Amanda Manyani (Rhodes University, PhD student), Dr. Bianca Currie (SRU Director), Prof. Andrew Leach (NMU DVC: Research), Sibo Nontangana (SRU, post graduate researcher) and Dr. Stephanie Freitag (SANParks).


SRU 2018 Research Associate Symposium brings minds together to contribute to a research agenda for the unit going forward. A part of the Sustainability Research Unit’s (SRU) vision is to be an energizing open space for inter, multi and trans-disciplinary thinking and learning, where talented people can come together to think, learn and co-create inspiring ideas. The SRU Research Associate Symposium is one such space. 

This year the intention of the symposium was to bring together research associates, academics, students and practitioners to discuss the impact of on-going and new research in the field of natural resource management and its allied disciplines. Professor Andrew Leitch, the Nelson Mandela University Deputy Vice Chancellor of research and Dr Nomakwezi Mzilikazi, the Director of Research Management at the university, research associates and partners from SANParks and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) where among the participants in attendance.

Dr. Bianca Currie (Director, SRU), opened the event inviting participants to be a part of developing a research agenda for an International Mixed Unit (IMU) science project being formulated at the SRU.  Current research on the George Campus were reflected on and additional areas of potential research and practice within a social ecological framework considered. The Research Associate Symposium included a keynote address from Prof. Herve Fritz who focused on the role and need for long term social ecological research (LTSER) in Africa. Prof. Christo Fabricius contextualised the new face of the Anthropocene as the interface, a zone of intersection where two or more adjacent land uses form an ecotone, where several knowledge systems and mental models connect and several sectors of society interact.  Dr. Jo Henschel from (SAEON) followed through with the long term research theme drawing attention to a special issue in the African Journal of Range and Forage Science which takes stock of the current knowledge and challenges concerning the Karoo’s ecological and social dimensions.

SRU Research Associates and allied researchers showcased their current work which included a presentation from Prof. Dirk Roux on cultural ecosystem services as emergent properties of people-place interaction in national parks; Dr. Jackie Dabrowski provided a hard hitting look at the critical eutrophication levels in the wake of institutional decay.  Dr Karen Badenhorst spoke about building an adaptive governance research framework to enable sustainable transformation in the socio-economic-ecological (SEE) nexus and; Amanda Manyani from Rhodes University highlighted her work on how urban dwellers identify with features within urban green spaces in the Eastern Cape, drawing a distinction between the global north and south perspectives.

The presentations set the scene for a dialogue on the critical issues and research opportunities in long term social ecological systems research and for further small group dialogues aimed at developing research themes.  The co-existence and collaboration at the interfaces in multi-functional living landscapes dominated as a theme, as did governance of social ecological systems.  Participants in the symposium also highlighted several priorities for research. There was strong agreement that communication, collaborations and sharing scientific outputs was an imperative as was inter, multi and transdisciplinary approaches to our work.

The exciting and productive day of dialogues ended off with a cheese and wine social networking event, showcasing local wines from the Herold Winery in Waaboomskraal.  Despite the cold and wet weather, a small group of participants also joined in on a field trip the next day.  The field trip included stops in Smutsville, Sedgefield to explore sustainability challenges against a backdrop of climate change and human environment tensions.  The group considered urbanising challenges and took a closer look at the intra features of a typical formal green space within a low income area in the Knysna Municipality.  The session was led by Prof. Robert Fincham and Amanda Manyani.  A later stop at Brenton on Sea led by Braam du Preez and Dr. Tineke Kraaij facilitated discussions on the complexity of prescribed burning in a mosaic landscape, and the effects of fire on fynbos and coastal thicket vegetation.  The discussions considered how varying fire intensities affected natural recovery of vegetation post the Knysna Fire in 2017.


Read the full report here.