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Global Environmental Change MSc/PhD Opportunity - The consequences of global change for ecosystem service delivery in a biodiverse urban-park matrix

15 May 2012 - 14:30

Global Environmental Change MSc/PhD Opportunity

The consequences of global change for ecosystem service delivery in a biodiverse urban-park matrix

A sustainable society depends on functional ecosystems and their associated biodiversity to support essential ecological services. Protected areas, set up to secure biodiversity into the future, are under threat from a range of past and present pressures, with implications for the delivery of ecological services. This is particularly the case for protected areas set in increasingly fragmented and developed urban contexts, such as South Africa’s Table Mountain National Park.

Table Mountain National Park, consolidated as a single protected area in 1998, is surrounded by a city of 3.2 million people and must juggle complex anthropocentric and conservation agendas. Spatially variable factors, such as past land use histories combined and contemporary pressures in the form of alien plant invasion, soil erosion, altered fire regimes, extensive use by people, and biodiversity extraction both within the park and surrounding matrix have significant implications for protected area performance. To track the impact and consequences of these global change drivers, SANPARKS has recently adopted a Biodiversity Monitoring System as a means of measuring the performance of their parks in securing biodiversity.

This MSc/PhD will examine the patterns and consequences of global change-induced degradation on ecosystem service provision in Table Mountain National Park. This MSc/PhD research would fall broadly in the area of landscape ecology and ecosystem services and would develop a detailed understanding of the landscape-level conservation status of the Park and be integrated into future conservation management recommendations for the park.

The project will include fine-scale spatial assessment and mapping of the conservation / degradation status of the entire Table Mountain National Park in line with SANPARKS’ Biodiversity Monitoring System. This would then inform a detailed investigation and quantification of specific ecosystem services, relating biodiversity and conservation status to ecosystem service delivery. Services to be investigated would depend on the particular interests of the successful applicant and are to be decided on in conjunction with the project team, but could include for example water infiltration, microclimate amelioration, sequestration of air pollutants, recreation and aesthetics. Key questions to be addressed by this project include: 1) What is the state of the environment of Table Mountain National Park? 2) How does the delivery of certain provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services relate to the state of the environment? 3) What are appropriate and feasible indicators for monitoring the status of ecosystem services in this context?

This project falls under a broad global environmental change and ecosystem services ACCESS-funded project and the successful candidate would be expected to participate in project related workshops and activities. Applicants must hold an Honours or MSc degree in Ecology, Soil Science, Conservation Biology or Environmental Science. This full time three-year PhD opportunity would suit a candidate with an excellent academic record and writing skills, good GIS skills, a strong interest in spatial ecology, and someone who is keen to carry out extensive fieldwork across the Cape Peninsula, and be prepared to be based in Cape Town for the duration of the degree.

Interested candidates should complete the full application form of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science (www.egs.uct.ac.za) and submit this to Pippin.Anderson@uct.act.za by 20 May 2012, and should be prepared to start the MSc/PhD in July 2012. The research concept note called for in the application pack should build on the project outlined above.