Forest mammalian community dynamics and human-wildlife interactions in the southern mistbelt forests of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape was the focus of newly-capped Dr Mbalenhle Sosibo’s PhD dissertation.
The Ecological Sciences graduate was supervised by Professor Colleen Downs and husband and wife duo Drs David and Yvette Ehlers Smith.
‘African forests are known for their diversity,’ said Downs. ‘However, many are degraded because of past and present anthropogenic activities. Mbali investigated the anthropogenic impacts on mammals occurring in the southern mistbelt forests of KZN and the Eastern Cape provinces. She highlighted which mammalian species inhabit these forests, their forest use and how anthropogenic activities affect their populations.
‘Furthermore, she showed that nearby communities feel that it is important to conserve these forests.’
Sosibo, who said she has always had a genuine interest in natural forests and their inhabitants explained further: ‘The mistbelt afromontane forests of the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal are naturally fragmented, but have been heavily logged in the past. Furthermore, the natural grassland mosaic around them has been modified for agriculture. Forest mammals are also hunted.
‘Persistence of mammals in these disjunct forests is thus of concern. My study investigated the effects of habitat transformation on mammalian functional diversity and biodiversity in these mistbelt forests, which are affected by fragmentation and other anthropogenic factors.’
Sosibo believes her research is significant as it highlights the crucial role these forests play in mammalian conservation.
She thanked her family for the integral part they played in supporting her through her PhD journey. Acknowledging that she set sights on a PhD way back in high school and that UKZN was a natural choice due to its researchers’ reputation, she is looking forward to taking up a postdoctoral position under Downs’ supervision in the second semester of 2022.
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal