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A new ecologist for the Arid Lands


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Casper will manage long-term environmental research on the land surrounding the Square Kilometre Array telescope in the Karoo

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Casper measures plant water potentials to clarify how invasive species might respond to future drought

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Casper believes that continuous monitoring plays a critical role in informing optimum conservation plans

Casper Crous has joined the SAEON Arid Lands Node as an ecologist. 

He will manage the long-term environmental research planned on the land surrounding the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope in the Karoo. The land is owned by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Casper received a PhD in Conservation Ecology from Stellenbosch University in 2013. In his dissertation, he explored a conservation concept, the mesofilter, and validated its use as a conservation planning and biodiversity management tool for agroecosystems in South Africa. Mesofilters are essentially landscape features associated with a unique diversity of fauna and flora, for example rockiness, and are often overlooked in larger scale conservation planning.

Since then he has been a research fellow at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute at the University of Pretoria, and before joining SAEON had a fellowship at the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes (cE3c) at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. At cE3c he was the theme leader for agroforestry and agroecosystems research, and helped to promote plant invasion research at the centre.

Research interests and experience

Casper’s core experience lies in population and community ecology, and how to manage biotic populations and communities in a rapidly changing world. He believes in systematic conservation planning, and that continuous monitoring plays a critical role in achieving optimum conservation plans.

In this light, he says he remains convinced that with proper farmland management practices one can safeguard biodiversity without sacrificing productivity in the long term. But he admits that there is often a lack of reliable long-term data to successfully convey this nexus.

With time, Casper has developed a deep interest in plant ecophysiology, and how such mechanistic data can help explain future plant community structure, whether native or non-native, and particularly under conditions of future drought.

Long-term research at the SKA

Casper’s excitement at getting involved in the science at the Arid Lands Node is almost tangible. He is particularly happy to be involved in the research at the SKA.

He explains: “Many plant communities globally are increasingly being disturbed and degraded due to agricultural expansion or intensification. In contrast, at the SKA site, commodity production will cease on almost 130 000 hectares, meaning ±13 000 sheep will no longer be grazing there. This sudden exclusion of livestock might suggest less environmental impact in the long run, but it remains a form of land-use change requiring on-going observation and investigation.”

When asked about his vision as an ecologist at the SAEON Arid Lands Node, his response is: “Excellent research with an excellent team”. The young scientist is also looking forward to collaborating with SAEON’s other nodes when and where the need arises.

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