Doctoral Thesis Examines Effects of Eco-Estates on the Eco-System

Dr Jarryd Alexander graduated with a PhD in the School of Life Sciences – with the support of the Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP) – after investigating the effects that eco-estates (a relatively new form of urban greening) developed on sugarcane land have on the functional diversity of amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and connectivity along the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) North Coast.

Originally from Johannesburg where he completed his undergraduate, honours, and master’s degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand, Alexander’s interest in and passion for the environment led him to this research. He prioritises making contributions to conserving nature, especially in the biodiverse and green region of KZN.

He explained that in the context of expanding urban populations and agricultural development, and a drive to maintain our natural habitats, eco-estates have been mushrooming along the prime KZN coastline. These developments promise to protect and preserve natural flora and fauna and minimise pollution and other negative environmental impacts of human habitation. However, there has been no research on whether eco-estates are improving or negatively affecting the KZN environment and its species.

‘It is fundamentally important that we better understand the influence these estates have on the environment so we are able to manage these correctly to benefit the environment and the species occurring in the region,’ said Alexander.

Alexander’s research revealed that sugarcane agriculture is not entirely negatively influencing functional diversity in KZN.

‘As with eco-estates, if these developments and land transformation types are developed and managed correctly, they are capable of improving local species and functional diversity,’ he said.

‘Ultimately these land transformation types are better for the environment than historical urbanisation. If people maintain, protect and increase natural habitats – even small patches, corridors, or large trees – it can help improve environmental health.’

Alexander said he hoped his research contributed to improving the development and management of existing and future urban and agricultural practices, making them greener and more environmentally beneficial.

He credited the assistance of his ‘highly esteemed, specialised and supportive supervisors’ Professor Colleen Downs and Drs David and Yvette Ehlers Smith, for making the process of achieving his PhD a smooth one. He also credited his family, especially his father Shane, mother Tracy and brother Trent, for their invaluable support, and thanked UKZN and D’RAP for funding support.

Alexander is exploring future possibilities that include undertaking postdoctoral research in nature and conservation or entering a career involving environmental management.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Gugu Mqadi