Mr Sbongiseni Xolo was awarded an MSc in Entomology.

MSc Highlights the Role of Ants in Reforested Landfill

Mr Sbongiseni Xolo was awarded a Master’s in Entomology for his investigation of biodiversity recovery in a reforestation project. The study used ants as a monitoring model to evaluate the extent to which reforestation for carbon sequestration can have co-benefits for biodiversity. It was conducted in the reforested landscape of the Buffelsdraai Landfill Conservancy.

In the context of climate change and massive biodiversity loss around the world, eThekwini Municipality initiated a reforestation project in 2008 at the Buffelsdraai Landfill Conservancy, deforested land previously used for sugarcane farming that was reclaimed by the municipality. The aim was to employ reforestation as a method to mitigate climate change, offset carbon emissions over a 20-year period and increase climate change adaptation through biodiversity and ecosystem services restoration.

The project, which was also established as a strategy to offset the event-related greenhouse gas emissions linked to the 2010 FIFA™ World Cup and enhance the capacity of people and biodiversity to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change, eventually grew to incorporate biodiversity recovery.

‘Even though the reforestation project was initiated for carbon sequestration, I found that it is also successfully restoring biodiversity lost through land use change, and showed that open woodlands are ideal habitats for maximising species diversity as they provide a complex habitat for many species,’ said Xolo, who recommended that the municipality maintain these sites as open woodlands.

Xolo was always intrigued by the sciences, specifically those that involved fieldwork, and thus enrolled at UKZN for a BSc in Environmental Sciences, followed by an honours project in Biological Sciences that involved an inventory of epigeal ants at the Ukulinga Research Farm. This work encouraged him to further his studies and helped him hone his research, laboratory and teamwork skills, also teaching him new methods and protocols for handling terrestrial fauna.

Seeing how successful invertebrates are in terrestrial ecosystems, Xolo elected to further his knowledge in this arena. The conservation status and value of invertebrates, particularly ants, are poorly known, and in South Africa only a limited number of studies have contributed to the conservation of ants.

‘This project provides an ant inventory covering the ant diversity of the restored Buffelsdraai Landfill Conservancy; this knowledge could result in a great deal of information that will be useful for conservation planning in South Africa, especially for open woodland habitats that are threatened by land transformation to support agrarian activities,’ he said.

Xolo, who currently works as a research assistant in the Entomology lab, has presented his research at 14 local and international conferences, including the International Congress for Conservation in Kuala Lumpur, the Entomological Society of Southern Africa Conference and the National Conference on Global Change. He plans to enrol for his PhD in 2020.

He thanked his supervisor, Dr Caswell Munyai, for his consistent support and for encouraging him to pursue postgraduate studies. He also thanked his family and friends for their support and acknowledged the special person in his life, Ms Mbali Mbonambi, saying, ‘home is where the heart is, and she’s my home.’

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan and Supplied