Fighting to conserve indigenous flora

Saness Moodley

Saness Moodley

Published Dec 18, 2023


Durban — Four eco-warriors whose research is helping conserve the country’s indigenous flora have been awarded grants by the Botanical Education Trust.

The four recipients are Saness Moodley, Liam Taylor, Willem Froneman and the Ingcungcu Sunbird Restoration Project.

Moodley, 26, recently completed her Master of Science degree and is now pursuing a PhD. Her study is looking at the pollination ecology of mountain grassland. Grassland is the most threatened biome in the country and little is known about the interaction of the community of plants and animals that make up this habitat, especially in mountainous regions.

“While some of these concepts have been explored, they need to be explored in a South African grassland context. My study aims to revisit fundamental pollination concepts and test their applicability in South African mountain grasslands,” she said.

Moodley, who was born in Durban and now lives in Joburg, said a lot of the species are vulnerable, endangered or haven’t been studied.

“This is quite an ambitious project using methodology that was previously done in areas with very little biodiversity and trying to adapt it here in South Africa. We look at the patterns and processes that govern community structures and why you see plants and animals within a given area. We are looking at the interaction between the floral traits and their pollinators.

Saness Moodley

“Biodiversity loss is extremely bad right now with global warming, therefore there needs to be an intervention, whether by harvesting these species and growing them in green houses to conserve them, or reducing livestock grazing, farming or anything that is potentially endangering grasslands,” said Moodley.

Taylor is investigating the role of baobab trees in supporting entire ecosystems. His study in the Mapungubwe National Park has shown that baobab trees provide nesting habitats (particularly large cavities) that don’t exist in the surrounding vegetation, thus providing a unique habitat for supporting biodiversity. He is now expanding his project to the Kruger National Park.

Froneman’s grant is for his project, titled Barleria in South Africa: Waterwise, Sun-loving, Beautiful and Prickly. Barleria is a genus of plants in the family Acanthaceae. Of the about 330 species of Barleria known worldwide, 50 occur in South Africa.

The Ingcungcu Sunbird Restoration Project aims to heal the relationship between plants, birds and people by restoring migration routes for nectar-feeding birds across the Cape Flats.

Sunday Tribune