Congratulations to Dr David Hlosi Maphisa on obtaining his PhD. His thesis is on how to manage grasslands for bird conservation. David was motivated to carry out this work by a practial need that arose when Eskom decided to build a pumped storage scheme in the middle of one of a few remaining pristine high-altitude grassland in eastern South Africa, which is home to several threatened bird species. Working for BirdLife, David was tasked with advising Eskom on how to best manage their land to make sure it retains its value for bird conservation. He soon realised that there were big knowledge gaps and, with some nudging from his boss, David decided to tackle the necessary research in the form of a PhD. “I'll do it if it helps us protecting the birds” is how he put it back then. Now, countless hours of hard work, both in the field and at the computer, David obtained his PhD title. His thesis contains a host of new data on the occurrence and abundance of key grassland bird species, and what determines their habitat requirements. David found that grass height and cover are two key habitat variables. His results suggest that a combination of burning and grazing could be used to create a habitat mosaic that should allow for a high species diversity. To get to these results, David used a combination of state-of-the art statistical techniques and simulation models.


                                 Dr David Maphisa (right) with his supervisor Ass. Prof Res Altwegg (left)

David's interest in grassland birds goes a long way back, to the time when he was a herd boy growing up in Lesotho to where his family had fled from the apartheid regime. His career as a biologist eventually brought him to UCT where he graduated with a Conservation Biology Masters degree. For his PhD, he was first registered at the Animal Demography Unit and more recently at the newly founded Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation (SEEC) in the Department of Statistical Sciences at UCT. He is currently employed as a scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute but maintains close links with UCT as a SEEC core member.