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In the Thicket, as thick as thieves

By Joh Henschel, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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The Thicket Forum is an annual event aimed at presenting and discussing conservation and research issues in the Albany Subtropical Thicket. Thicket - also known as Valley Bushveld - is one of South Africa’s major ecosystems, and contains exceptionally high numbers of different plant species compared with other ecosystems. Many of these plants are found nowhere else in the world.

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MSc student Zezethu Mnqeta proudly shows off her poster.

Eighty Thicket Forum conference delegates learnt the meaning of the “and more” part of the meeting’s theme: Thicket Extremes: Drought, Megaherbivores and more between 21 and 23 June, all huddled together as thick as thieves, trying to mitigate the effects of the cold in a large tent in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Four special delegates boosted scientific presentation standards. These were Nokubonga Mgqatsa, Kyra Lunderstedt, Zezethu Mnqeta and Megan Smith, who would not have been able to show their mettle if it were not for SAEON’s sponsorship enabling them to attend.

The SAEON four

The SAEON four did us proud by giving outstanding presentations; two winning first prizes for oral and poster presentations, remarkable in view of all being in the final stages of completing their PhD, MSc or Honours theses.

MSc student Zezethu Mnqeta summed up her impressions as follows: “I wish to acknowledge the sponsorship from the SAEON Arid Lands Node, which provided me with a great opportunity to attend the Thicket Forum for the first time. I would also like to express my gratitude to those who contributed to the success of the forum, especially the hard work put in by the organising committee.

“The forum provided me with knowledge on other current projects conducted within the Albany Thicket Biome. The presentations were well-presented and covered the following topics: Thicket restoration by spekboom; impact of megaherbivores on Thicket vegetation; favourable climatic conditions for spekboom growth; different procedures for planting spekboom; and much more. The forum featured a Thicket identification and iSpot workshop, which greatly improved my plant identification skills.

“Attending the forum granted me an opportunity to network with other professionals with different sets of skills, which will provide an exceptional opportunity for exchange of experience and expanding knowledge. The forum was interesting and I learnt a lot about challenges facing the Thicket Biome.

“I would recommend that the forum considers other indigenous plants within the Albany Thicket Biome and not focus mainly on spekboom. The Thicket Biome is not only comprised of the spekboom, there are other plants which can also play an important role in the restoration of the Thicket Biome.

“Overall, the forum was meaningful and well worth attending, and I will certainly attend the Thicket Forum in 2017.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by the other three students.

MSc student Kyra Lunderstedt added: “I was most honoured to receive the award for best student presentation at the end of the forum. I wish to thank all those involved in making this year’s Thicket Forum one of the best that I have attended and for giving me the opportunity to network and present my research.”

Honours student Megan Smith said: “The forum has definitely opened my mind and shifted the way I think not only about the Thicket, but about science in general. I was honoured to win the award for best poster, which was a testament to my and my supervisor’s hard work.”

Significantly, Nokubonga Mgqatsa, who was in the final stages of finishing her PhD thesis, remarked: “As I continue to grow in the field of science, I hope the Thicket Forum will have many opportunities like this for young people.” Nokubonga thanked SAEON for the generous support.

May the Thicket Forum 2016 be a memorable milestone for the “SAEON four” in the development of their scientific careers.

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