Tsitisikamma Fynbos Research Program

A long term collaborative project with SANParks, which aims to document which flowering plants occur in the Nature’s Valley section of the Garden Route National Park and surrounding area, which are pollinated by birds, and how climate change may affect their plant-pollinator relationships. 

 

Angiosperm phenology

Flowering fynbos species are recorded on a weekly basis on the hiking trails in the area. These flower walks allow us to explore the wonder of the beautiful Kalanderkloof, Salt River, Point and Covie hiking trails. We gather important information on the flowering species and their peak flowering times throughout the year. Additionally, we monitor the possible changes that may occur with a changing climate and what this may mean for important plant-pollinator relationship.

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 Bird Ringing

Every two weeks, we catch, ring and release bird species in the Fynbos. This is part of a larger project to document migration patterns, longevity, range shifts, etc. Bird-ringing is a wonderful and educational morning activity. You are welcome to join us - book at the office to join in and have some fun with feathered friends.

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The above two projects along with ones focused on specific species of plants and their pollinators assist us in obtaining valuable information on the plant-pollinator interaction and aspects of ecosystems functioning.

 

Pollination Studies

This entails using pollinator exclusion experiment to determine the pollination systems of various flowering species in the area.

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Honey bee visiting Watsonia knysnana (Louise Bestea) and a Sunbird pollinating the same species (Sabine Meurrens)

The three projects mentioned above is a holistic approach that assists us in obtaining valuable information on the plant-pollinator interaction and various aspects of ecosystems functioning.

Field Guides

We are currently working on an Alien Invasive guide for Nature’s Valley which will be available in August 2018. This guide highlights the main plants which are invasive in the area, how you can remove them and options of indigenous plants you can replace them with.

In the pipeline are two more guides on flowers and mushrooms of the area. Watch this space for updates.

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Postgraduate Research

Habitat fragmentation and what it means for birds and the plants they pollinate.

The areas above Nature’s Valley and surroundings is made up of a patchwork of different land-uses and management approaches indicative of its history and current application. The whole area falls within the footprint of the Garden Route National Park.  This presents a challenge to the management of the Park to not only conserve the proclaimed Park areas but also to work closely with the surrounding private and commercial landowners whose actions can directly influence the Park. Daniel’s project focuses on the tall fynbos found in this area, which generally has been broken up into smaller patches as a result of the land use history. This project will investigate ecosystems functioning in theses patches and how a further reduction in patch sizes will cause a break-down in the way the ecosystem operates.

Great emphasis will be given to bird-pollinated plant species, such as Protea neriifolia and Erica discolor as well as some of the bulbs/geophytes. For each of the species the effects of reproductive success (number of viable seeds) will be compared between different patch sizes. The expectation is that smaller patches will produce less seeds due to fewer birds visiting the plants. To determine this, a comparison of bird species between patches will be made. Additionally, the link, if any, between nectar production and the occurrence of birds within the patches will be explored.

This study will provide us with a better understanding of how ecosystems are being influenced by fragmentation and will potentially generate management suggestions that will help ensure the future of even the smallest patch. 

- Daniel Cloete

 

Pollination in the fynbos.

Kellyn Whitehead's MSc forms part of NVT's fynbos research and has a main focus on bird pollination within the fynbos of the Nature's Valley area. The project entails closely looking at the breeding systems of two plants species, which flower at different times of the year and offers nectar feeding birds a food resource during those times. The first, Kniphofia uvaria (red hot poker), belongs to the Aloe family and flowers in the first half of the year from about April through to end of June. The second, Chasmanthe aethiopica, belongs to the Iris family, and flowers May through to July. Exclusion experiments will be conducted on both of these species to determine key pollinators and the plants ability to self-pollinate. A range of flower measurements including nectar volume and sucrose concentration will be obtained.

The second part of the project investigates different patches and the effects the patch sizes have on pollinator visitation rates and consequently pollination success - determined by means of seed set counts.

The final part of the project is focused on species phenology, where data on the species composition of the area and flowering time will be collected.

 - Kellyn Whitehead

 

Erica pollination in a fragmented fynbos landscape

Jennifer Angoh joined the NVT team in 2015 to complete her MSc through the University of Cape Town. The main focus of the project was looking at the impacts of fragmentation in the fynbos and its affect on plant-pollinator relationships. She focused on the genus Ericaceae and studied the pollination systems of six Erica species. The study found that of the six species only one, Ericasessiliflora, showed high compatibility for self-pollination. The end results of Jennifer’s thesis determined that, due to habitat fragmentation, these Erica species are at risk as they are reliant on their pollinators (either insect or bird) to survive.

You can read more about this research project, titled: The birds, the bees and Erica: vulnerability of plant-pollinator communities in fragmented fynbos landscapes, by clicking on the link.

- Jennifer Angoh

 

Intern Research

In 2015, South Korean intern from Duke University conducted a mini fynbos research project while she was interning with us. She was curious to see if the different mesh sizes of the exclusion cages we use for our pollination studies had an impact on the visitation of bees.

Ukyoung did 10-minute observations of the exclusion cages placed over different individuals of Kniphofia uvaria, the red-hot poker. She counted the number of bees which entered that visited the flowers and timed how long they spent on the flowers before moving on. This was done for all the cages which had different mesh sizes.

She concluded that there was no difference in visitation by bees to flowers for cages of different mesh sizes.

Ukyoung Chang