The Arid Zone Ecology Forum (AZEF) held its 27th conference from the 16th to the 19th of October at the NG Moedergemeente Church Hall in Worcester. The conference was attended by a network of 122 people from state, provincial, educational and research institutions.
The theme of the conference was Emerging threats in the arid zone: building knowledge and developing solutions, and was set in motion with a meet-and-greet which was held at the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden (KDNBG). Here Garden Curator Werner Voigt warmly welcomed conference delegates to Worcester.
What made this AZEF special is that it was set in the Central Breede River Valley, a SKEP geographic priority area. Although the area occupies low conservation status and faces irrigated agriculture pressure, it is the place where Succulent Karoo, Fynbos and Renosterveld meet.
The official conference was opened with a welcoming address by the AZEF Chair, Clement Cupido. Invited keynote addresses were delivered by Joseph R McAuliffe, who is from the Desert Botanical Garden Arizona in the United States of America (USA), and Nico Smit who is from the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the University of Free State.
Papers, posters, presentations and discussions focused on themes such as plant community ecology; degradation and rehabilitation; bush encroachment; botanical studies; climate change; fracking; zoological studies; botanical studies and alien plants and conservation biology. Research and conservation efforts in Namaqualand held a strong feature on the programme, emphasising the significance of the SKEP partnership.
The KDNBG is the South African National Biodiversity Institutes (SANBI’s) 2nd oldest conservation garden. It is one of five gardens worldwide that specializes in arid and semi arid plant cultivation and conservation. The KDNBG plays a valuable role in promoting awareness around habitat and plant conservation. Through its efforts in ex situ conservation, it hopes to assist in the long term protection of rare species and endangered taxa of southern Africa’s arid ecosystems.
Conference attendees were spoilt for choice to the various field trips which consisted of visits to the KDNBG; Worcester Veld Reserve, The Hills around Brandvlei Dam; the Nekkies Wetland; Renosterveld fragments close to Worcester and Graham Beck Wines in Robertson.
“This year’s AZEF has been a great success” said Cupido. “The AZEF is now officially registered as a non-profit organization (NPO) and this will change the way AZEF operates now and into the future.”
The SKEP would like to congratulate the following prize winners:
1. First Best Prize oral presentation:
Sam Jack: Blow me down! A new perspective on Aloe dichotoma mortality
as a result of windthrow
2. Second Prize oral presentation:
Ancois de Villiers: Holistic Management: considering "wholes within wholes" in rangelands
3. First Best Prize for Poster presentation:
Miya Kabajani: Dark or Light? Rock colour and geology appear to influence the habitat choices of the Husab Sand Lizard (Pedioplanis husabensis) in the Central Namib Desert
4. Second Best Prize for Poster presentation:
Gabrielle Solomon: Assessing soil microbe and plant diversity in two renosterveld vegetation types around Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape.
The AZEF 2013 will be held in Uppington. Photo’s of AZEF 2012 can be viewed the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) Facebook page.