William Bond

Emeritus Professor William J. Bond                     
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Cape Town,
Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa 
+27 (21) 6502439

Email: william.bond@uct.ac.za 



I am a retired professor of ecology but still enjoy research in the field. I have strong research interests in the ecology, biogeography and evolution of open (non-forested) ecosystems. Open ecosystems occur in climates wet enough and warm enough to support forests. They are prominent in South Africa with fynbos shrublands in the west and grassy ecosystems in the east and north and more generally in Africa, the world’s grassiest continent. I have helped show the ancient origins of these systems contradicting the notion that they are the result of deforestation. Similar open ecosystems occur around the world, widely misinterpreted as the result of anthropogenic degradation. I have explored both physical and biotic controls on the distribution of these systems using a variety of tools, from remote sensing and global vegetation models, to field studies and glasshouse experiments. Inevitably this means I have diverse interests in fire ecology and herbivore ecology and their impacts on tree populations. I have helped build a conceptual framework of global biogeography that includes how animals and fire interact with climate to shape the distribution and structure of terrestrial ecosystems. This work has policy implications challenging global plans to afforest large areas of open ecosystems for carbon capture. .

Academic degrees
1970    B.Sc. (Hons.)(Exeter, U.K.)
1981    M.Sc. (U.C.T.)
1987    Ph.D. (UCLA, U.S.A.)

Awards and Honours
 Fellow of the Royal Society (2021)
    Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences, USA (2013)
    Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa
    Fellow of the University of Cape Town.
    National Research Foundation of South Africa, A1 rating 4 cycles (latest 2014) 
    Erskine Fellow, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
    Gold medal, South African Association of Botanists, 2016
    Silver medal, South African Association of Botanists
    Research Fellow, Land & Water Australia (2006)
    Visiting Fellow, University of Tasmania, (2012) 

    1971-1974            Natural resource survey, Mozambique (Loxton, Hunting and Assoc) 
    1974-1976            Lake ecology, Cabora Bassa, Mozambique (Loxton, Hunting and Assoc) 
    1976-1982            Ecological research, Cape mountain catchments, Forestry Department  
    1982-1986            Graduate studies, UCLA California Chaparral 
    1986-1987            Ecological research, Cape mountain catchments, Forestry Department  
    1988-1993            Lecturer Botany Department, University of Cape Town 
    1993-2013            Professor, Botany Department, UCT 
    2014-2018            Chief Scientist, SAEON, National Research Foundation, 
    2013-present        Emeritus Prof, Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Post-Doctoral Fellows and Graduate students
Graduate - 
17 PhD, 40 MSc. Among my ex graduates are Prof Steve Johnson (UKZN), Prof Anton Pauw (Univ. Stellenbosch), Prof Sally Archibald (Wits University), Dr Carla Staver (Yale Univ.),  Maanda Ligavha (Uni. Venda), Prof Adam West (UCT), Dr Susi Vetter (Rhodes University), Kristal Maze (Director, Conservation, SANBI), Vhali Khavhagali (IUCN, South Africa), Dr Dave Le Maitre (deceased 2023, CSIR, Stellenbosch), Dr Corli Coetsee (SANParks), Dr Mmoto Masubelele (SANParks), Dr. Nicola Stevens (Trapnell Fellow, Oxford). 

I continue to work with past post-docs and postgraduates. 
Most recently:

Tristan Charles-Dominique (CNRS, France) . Understanding the ecology of trees and shrubs in savanna: a developmental perspective. Plant architectural analysis across alternative biome states. Structural defences of plants.

Nikki (Nicola) Stevens (Trapnell Fellow, Oxford).  Afforestation of African grassy biomes and its problems.

Abraham Dabengwa (Wits, paleoecology).  Paleoecological analysis and how to incorporate fire, grazing, humans and the usual suspect, climate, in paleo reconstructions.

Anabelle Cardoso (Oxford, currently Bioscape, Univ. at Buffalo, USA and UCT).  Forest and grassy mosaics and how they are maintained by fire, herbivores.

Heath Beckett (Stellenbosch University).  Forest/grassland mosaics and their maintenance. 

Tsilavo Razafimanantsoa (UCT). My most recent (last) PhD graduand co-supervised with Prof Lindsey Gillson. Paleoecology of the Central Highlands of two areas of Madagascar. 

Internet Videos

The Untold Story of Grasses (28k views)

Mythbusting forests. OCTF Seminar. (3k views)

A case for grasslands and why they are so important. (5.1 k views)

Beyond the forest edge: understanding open ecosystems. RSSAF. (662views)

Citations As of August 2023, 61562 citations and h-index of 111.


  • Bond, WJ. 2019. Open Ecosystems: ecology and evolution beyond the forest edge. OUP.
  • Scott AC, Bowman DMJS, Bond WJ, Alexander ME. 2014. Fire on Earth: An Introduction. Wiley, Blackwell.
  • Keeley JE, Bond WJ, Bradstock,RA, Pausas JG, Rundel PW. 2011. Fire Ecology, Evolution and Management in Mediterranean Climate Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Bond, W.J., van Wilgen, B.W. (1996) Fire and Plants. Chapman and Hall, London. (Volume 14 in the Population and Community biology series).

Selected Journal Articles (>250 published; See e.g. Google Scholar)

  • Bond, W.J., Silander, J.A. and Ratsirarson, J. (2023), Madagascar's grassy biomes are ancient and there is much to learn about their ecology and evolution. J Biogeogr, 50: 614-621.
  • Zhou, Y., Bomfim, B., Bond, W. J., Boutton, T. W., Case, M. F., Coetsee, C., ... & Staver, A. C. (2023). Soil carbon in tropical savannas mostly derived from grasses. Nature Geoscience, 1-7.
  • Cardoso AW, Beckett H and Bond WJ (2023) How forests survive alongside flammable open ecosystems: conservation implications for Africa. Front. Conserv. Sci. 4:1150516.


  • Stevens, N., Bond, W., Feurdean, A., & Lehmann, C. E. (2022). Grassy ecosystems in the Anthropocene. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 47, 261-289.
  • Lu, M., Bond, W. J., Sheffer, E., Cramer, M. D., West, A. G., Allsopp, N., ... & Hedin, L. O. (2022). Biome boundary maintained by intense belowground resource competition in world’s thinnest-rooted plant community. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(9), e2117514119.
  • Beckett, H., Staver, A. C., Charles‐Dominique, T., & Bond, W. J. (2022). Pathways of savannization in a mesic African savanna–forest mosaic following an extreme fire. Journal of Ecology, 110(4), 902-915.


  • Pausas, J. G., & Bond, W. J. (2021). Alternative biome states challenge the modelling of species' niche shifts under climate change. Journal of Ecology, 109(12), 3962-3971.
  • Bond, W. J. (2021). Out of the shadows: ecology of open ecosystems. Plant Ecology & Diversity, 14(5-6), 205-222.
  • Power, S. C., Verboom, G. A., Bond, W. J., Packer, K. F., & Cramer, M. D. (2021). The role of shade in maintaining alternative stable states between open‐and closed‐canopy vegetation. Journal of Ecology, 109(11), 3835-3848.
  • Cardoso, A. W., Oliveras, I., Abernethy, K. A., Jeffery, K. J., Glover, S., Lehmann, D., ... & Malhi, Y. (2021). A distinct ecotonal tree community exists at central African forest–savanna transitions. Journal of Ecology, 109(3), 1170-1183.


  • Pausas, J. G., & Bond, W. J. (2020). Alternative biome states in terrestrial ecosystems. Trends in Plant Science, 25(3), 250-263.
  • Smit, I. P., & Bond, W. J. (2020). Observations on the natural history of a savanna drought. African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 37(1), 119-136.
  • Wigley, B. J., Charles-Dominique, T., Hempson, G. P., Stevens, N., TeBeest, M., Archibald, S., ... & Kruger, L. M. (2020). A handbook for the standardised sampling of plant functional traits in disturbance-prone ecosystems, with a focus on open ecosystems. Australian Journal of Botany, 68(8), 473-531.


  • Bond, W. J., Stevens, N., Midgley, G. F., & Lehmann, C. E. (2019). The trouble with trees: afforestation plans for Africa. Trends in ecology & evolution, 34(11), 963-965.
  • Buisson E, Le Stradic S, Silveira FAO, Durigan G, Overbeck GE, Fidelis A, Fernandes GW, Bond WJ, Hermann JM, Mahy G, Alvarado ST, Zalooumis NP, Veldman JW. (2019).
  • Resilience and restoration of tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and grassy woodlands. Biological Reviews, 94(2), 590-609.
  • Cramer, M. D., Power, S. C., Belev, A., Gillson, L., Bond, W. J., Hoffman, M. T., & Hedin, L. O. (2019). Are forest‐shrubland mosaics of the Cape Floristic Region an example of alternate stable states?. Ecography, 42(4), 717-729.
  • Pausas JG, Bond WJ. (2019). Humboldt and the reinvention of nature. J Ecol. 2019;107:1031–1037.


  • Cardoso AW, Oliveras I, Abernethy KA, Jeffery KJ, Lehmann D, Edzang Ndong J, McGregor I, Belcher CM, Bond WJ and Malhi YS (2018) Grass Species Flammability, Not Biomass, Drives Changes in Fire Behavior at Tropical Forest-Savanna Transitions. Front. For. Glob. Change 1:6. doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2018.00006
  • Cramer MD, Power SC, Belev A, Gillson L, Bond WJ, Hoffman TM, Hedin L. (2018). Are forest-shrubland mosaics of the Cape Floristic Region an example of alternate stable states? Ecography 42: 1–13
  • Osborne, C. P., Charles‐Dominique, T., Stevens, N., Bond, W. J., Midgley, G., & Lehmann, C. E. (2018). Human impacts in African savannas are mediated by plant functional traits. New Phytologist. 220 (1):10-24
  • Charles‐Dominique, T., Midgley, G. F., Tomlinson, K. W., & Bond, W. J. (2018). Steal the light: shade vs fire adapted vegetation in forest–savanna mosaics. New Phytologist 218: 1419-1429
  • ​​​​​​​Archibald S, Lehmann CER, Belcher C, Bond WJ, Bradstock RA, et al. 2018. Biological and geophysical feedbacks with fire in the Earth System. Environmental Research Letters 13: 033003.


  • Hempson, G. P., Archibald, S., & Bond, W. J. (2017). The consequences of replacing wildlife with livestock in Africa. Scientific reports, 7(1), 17196.
  • Power, S.C., Anthony Verboom, G., Bond, W.J. and Cramer, M.D., 2017. Environmental correlates of biome‐level floristic turnover in South Africa. Journal of Biogeography 44, 1745–1757
  • Williams RJ, Cook G, Liedloff A, Bond WJ. 2017. Australia’s Tropical Savannas: vast, ancient and rich landscapes. In. D.A. Keith ed, Australian Vegetation, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 368-388.
  • Charles‐Dominique, T., Midgley, G.F. and Bond, W.J., 2017. Fire frequency filters species by bark traits in a savanna‐forest mosaic. Journal of Vegetation Science 28 (4), 728-735
  • Skowno, A.L., Thompson, M.W., Hiestermann, J., Ripley, B., West, A.G. and Bond, W.J., 2017. Woodland expansion in South African grassy biomes based on satellite observations (1990–2013): general patterns and potential drivers. Global Change Biology 23, 2358-2369.
  • Bunney, K., Bond, W.J. and Henley, M., 2017. Seed dispersal kernel of the largest surviving megaherbivore—the African savanna elephant. Biotropica. 49 (3), 395-401.


  • Charles-Dominique, T., Davies, T.J., Hempson, G.P., Bezeng, B.S., Daru, B.H., Kabongo, R.M., Maurin, O., Muasya, A.M., van der Bank, M. and Bond, W.J., 2016. Spiny plants, mammal browsers, and the origin of African savannas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(38), pp.E5572-E5579.
  • Stevens, N., Erasmus, B.F.N., Archibald, S. and Bond, W.J., 2016. Woody encroachment over 70 years in South African savannahs: overgrazing, global change or extinction aftershock?. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371(1703), p.20150437.
  • Zaloumis, N.P. and Bond, W.J., 2016. Reforestation or conservation? The attributes of old growth grasslands in South Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371(1703), p.20150310.
  • Bond, W. and Zaloumis, N.P., 2016. The deforestation story: testing for anthropogenic origins of Africa's flammable grassy biomes. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371(1696), p.20150170.
  • West, A.G., Nel, J.A., Bond, W.J. and Midgley, J.J., 2016. Experimental evidence for heat plume‐induced cavitation and xylem deformation as a mechanism of rapid post‐fire tree mortality. New Phytologist 211: 828-838
  • Bond, W.J., 2016. Ancient grasslands at risk. Science, 351(6269), pp.120-122.
  • Wigley BJ, Slingsby JA, Diaz S, Bond WJ, Fritz H, Coetsee C. 2016. Leaf traits of African woody savanna species across climate and soil fertility gradients: evidence for conservative vs. acquisitive resource use strategies. J. Ecol. 104: 1357-1369
  • Moncrieff GR, Bond WJ, Higgin SI. 2016. Revising the biome concept for understanding and predicting global change impacts. Journal of Biogeography 43:863-873.

Not cited here, 2015 and earlier. See Google Scholar.