Scientific Talk-fest in Skukuza
By Craig Ferguson
From April 4th-7th 2005, the average IQ of the residents of Skukuza rocketed as the camp was invaded by scientists from South Africa and all over the world as they attended the 3rd Annual KNP Science Networking Meeting. The theme for the meeting this year was "Savanna Ecosystems in a time of change: Managing Biodiversity for future generations" focussing on the interaction between research, the uncertain future and the implications for conservation biology and biodiversity management.
This is in the context of the new management plan for Kruger National Park which has moved away from previous policies aimed at exerting some form of control on the environment in order to preserve biodiversity. The new policy recognises that the stability, biodiversity and resilience of the ecosystem can be maintained through allowing constant change within certain well defined limits or Thresholds of Potential Concern (TPC's).
The director of KNP, Dr Bandile Mkhize, opened the meeting on Monday morning, highlighting the significant contribution that the KNP's Scientific Services had made to conservation in the Park and in general since 1950, making them the envy of conservationists worldwide. He pointed out that the latest management plan was now in the final stages of revision and that the alterations had been due to some of the latest research. Of the more than 200 research projects registered, 25 percent are by non-SA scientists and all are encouraged to engage in capacity building. To this end several previously disadvantaged scientists have been assisted.
The approximately 180 delegates are all engaged in research within the Kruger National Park and represented about half of the projects currently being undertaken. Most South African universities were represented with 38 delegates from 19 international universities in America, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands. 21 delegates were from South African National Parks. The format of the three-day meeting was in the form of almost a hundred 20-minute presentations with very limited question time after each.
Several themes were covered, including the effects of fire, water, alien invaders, and diseases on the composition structure and functioning of savanna ecosystems; the effects of grazing and browsing and predation on the overall biodiversity; the distribution and movement of nutrients within the system; the place of the local community within the conservation goals and the atmospheric effects influencing biodiversity. Networking and the exchange of ideas took place at mealtimes in Skukuza community hall.
The meeting's "formal" dinner was held on Tuesday night at the Skukuza Golf Club and was sponsored by the Andrew Mellon Foundation which provided funding for many of the research projects presented. The meeting was hosted jointly by Scientific Services (KNP), Centre for Water in the Environment (WITS University), DST Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (Stellenbosch University) and the Botany Department (Cape Town University). All the delegates thought that the meeting was a tremendous success and many vowed to be at the next one scheduled for 2006.