Mlungele (Mlu) Nsikani
Collecting soil samples

Mlu collecting soil samples under the watchful eye of Acacia saligna plants

Soil for greenhouse

Collecting soil to be used in the greenhouse

Background

I am an ecologist with interests in research that transcends boundaries, be they scalar, within the ecological domain, or between the sciences, art, and culture. This is because the source of environmental problems and solutions rarely exist within the domain of one scale or discipline. I have a BSc (Hons) in Forest Resources and Wildlife Management and a PhD in Botany, and currently working on becoming a “5th generation restoration ecologist” and an old happy-go-lucky distinguished professor.

Research niche

Pines were introduced to South Africa in the 17th century for various purposes, including timber production. Shortly after their introduction, they began to spread from plantations to invade native vegetation. Negative impacts of pine invasions include increases in biomass, fuel loads and fire intensity, and decreases in native plant diversity and surface water runoff. Management interventions such as clearing are necessary to reduce these negative impacts. Despite large scale control efforts by Working for Water, there is no indication that the extent of invasion has decreased. In fact, only a part of the invaded area has been reached. High Angle Teams (HATs), manual clearing personnel with special training to work on mountains, are currently the only available management option to control pine invasions on high altitude sites. There were attempts to augment clearing efforts with biological control but these were not successful due to its perceived risk to forestry plantations. In the absence of biological control, pine invasions remain prominent on high altitude sites, due to their rugged and inaccessible nature. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new control methods that are tailored for high altitude sites to be developed and applied in South Africa. My study seeks to primarily explore the comparative cost efficiency and efficacy of Aerial Basal Bark Application, Ground Basal Bark Application and Boom Spraying in South Africa.

Research outline

  1. Management of invasive alien woody species on high altitude sites (global literature review)
  2. Use of HATs in managing invasive alien woody species on high altitude sites: lessons from South Africa (research article)
  3. In-situ comparison of aerial and ground-based clearing methods for low density invasive pines on high altitude sites (research article)
  4. Clearing dense stands of invasive pines on high altitude sites using boom spraying (research article)

Additional current research

I am also passionate about secondary (and possibly tertiary) invasions and working on several projects that explore the (1) future, present and past of secondary invasions in South Africa; (2) secondary invasions under different primary invaders; and (3) balance between native species and secondary invaders after clearing invasive acacias.

Publications