College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Participants at the research symposium.

Thirteen Presentations Featured at Durban Research Action Partnership Symposium

An attitude of curiosity and perseverance in science was advocated by UKZN’s Professor Colleen Downs during her opening presentation at the annual research symposium of the Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP).

D’RAP is a joint initiative between the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the eThekwini Municipality’s Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.

More than 40 students, municipal officials, scientists and University staff attended the Symposium, which featured 13 presentations from students on research they undertook on D’RAP projects.

Downs, one of the academic supervisors involved in D’RAP, spoke about how the partnership was a special one as it featured the Municipality and University working together. She encouraged participants to nurture an attitude of curiosity and perseverance in science.

Downs emphasised the importance of having data for the management of the effects of the Anthropocene (the current geological age) in which forest loss, extinction and decline are affecting ecosystems and ecosystem services. D’RAP’s work across a gradient from urban to protected areas generates such data, and according to Downs, is making an impact and putting South Africa on the map.

‘Africa needs to be heard,’ she said, ‘and a lot of the work being done would not be possible without citizen science. A lot of the work you are doing in the eThekwini Municipality involves the people who live here.

‘Today highlights the interdisciplinary work we’re doing, which is particularly important in this “post-truth” kind of age,’ said Downs, who encouraged postgraduate students to continue contributing to increased knowledge about biodiversity and ecosystems.

Manager of the Climate Protection Branch in the EPCPD Dr Sean O’Donoghue and Manager of eThekwini Municipality’s Restoration Ecology Branch Mr Errol Douwes gave an overview of D’RAP research outputs and outcomes since 2011 in the form of lessons learned by UKZN researchers and the Municipality.

Douwes emphasised the importance of science in areas of driving local action and sustainable development, and of having a matrix of open spaces, and focusing on protection and management, restoration and spatial planning.

‘Developing knowledge that’s going to help us be aware of the right thing to do in terms of this novel situation of climate change where we’re facing unprecedented types of weather and vulnerabilities is where the importance of the research comes in,’ said O’Donoghue.

‘We have to know what we need to get our communities to do and how much our ecosystems can absorb the impacts of climate change before we reach tipping points.’

Topics focused on urban ecology and on plant and animal species living in urban and peri-urban areas falling under the eThekwini Municipality.

Species under study included vervet monkeys, crowned eagles, ants, forest birds and mammals as well as invasive and indigenous plant species. Presenters also spoke about remote sensing of foliar nitrogen, the effect of eco-estates on animal biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal, the effects of habitat size and fragmentation on birds and mammals, and the proper use of terminology in forest management.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod