We are a research-led unit, and pride ourselves on carrying out research with a past-present-future focus that has relevance and application to the conservation of African ecosystems, while maintaining a global perspective. We use our research to inform and inspire our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. We are committed to keeping our teaching Africa-focussed and relevant to South Africa’s social-ecological context. We are especially focussed on the Greater Cape Floristic Region (i.e. the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes), but also have extensive experience in savannas.  Where possible, we involve our postgraduate and postdoctoral team in teaching as they provide valuable role models for younger students.

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MSc student Janine Steytler and postdoc Adele Julier using a vibracorer to core the sediment at Orangekloof.

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PhD student Gina Arena (3rd from left) with colleagues collecting data along a line transect at Middelburg, Eastern Cape.



    BIO3013F: Global Change

    Prof. Timm Hoffman

    A taught module on 'Global change and its impact in Africa' which draws on ideas from anthropology, environmental history, ecology and global change to discuss issues concerned with deforestation, desertification and pastoralism on the continent.


    BIO3018F: Ecology and Evolution

    Prof. Timm Hoffman

    A taught module on 'African biogeography over space and time' which outlines the major biomes, biogeographical regions and floras of Africa in terms of their diversity and disturbance history.


    BIO3014S: Conservation: genes, populations, ecosystems

    Prof. Lindsey Gillson

    An introductory module on the origins, philosophy, practice and theoretical underpinnings of conservation. Module on the use of palaeoeocology in conservation.


    For further details of undergraduate courses and how to apply for undergraduate study, please visit the UCT Biological Sciences Department and UCT Science Faculty websites.


    BIO 4000W (Biological Sciences Honours)

    PCU staff offer the following modules to the Honours in Biology:

    Applied Palaeoecology

    Prof. Lindsey Gillson

    Showcasing work in the PCU palaeoecology laboratory, we explore the application of palaeoecological data in African ecosystems including the conservation and management of savannas, Madagascar, and the Cape Floristic Region. We also provide an overview of palaeoecological methods and an introduction to quantitative techniques.

    The historical ecology of the Cape

    Prof. Timm Hoffman

    This 5-day field course explores the socio-ecological environments of the winter rainfall region of South Africa. Students are exposed to the environments of the West Coast, the Cedarberg and broader Namaqualand region of the western part of South Africa, including the quartz rich Knersvlakte.


    For further details of Honours in Biology, please visit the UCT Biological Sciences Department website.


    Members of the PCU contribute to teaching on the following coursework Master's programmes:

    MSc in Conservation Biology (BIO5007H)

    Module in Community Ecology

    Dr Robert Thomson and Prof. Timm Hoffman

    This module provides an overview of the structure and dynamics of biological communities, as well as the theoretical and empirical bases that have underpinned modern concepts in the field. Most of the 2-week module is spent in the field (e.g. Tswalu Kalahari Reserve) examining how these concepts can be translated into problem solving.

    ACDI Masters in Climate Change and Development (EGS5031F)

    Biodiversity and Climate Change

    Prof. Lindsey Gillson (convener)

    Climate change has a major influence on biodiversity distribution and ecosystem function. This module explores the science and practice of conservation in a changing climate. Local, national and international examples are explored, and a range of local experts engage with the class. A summary of this module, for non-biologists, is presented to the ACDI class.


    The PCU is host to a number of MSc and PhD researchers as well as several Post-doctoral research fellows. Research degrees are usually focus around the themes of landscape change and the implications for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. There is a strong emphasis on the ecology and conservation of the Greater Cape Floristic Region, in keeping with the Leslie Hill endowment. Other focal areas include the savannas of southern Africa and the highlands and dry forests of Madagascar. Palaeoecology, repeat photography and ecological field work are our core methodologies, but we are strongly focused towards interdisciplinary research that may include elements of ecological monitoring, GIS, remote sensing, modelling and active stakeholder engagement.

    In addition to training in scientific research methods and writing, we aim to provide postgraduate researchers with a broad scientific training and transferrable skills that include data analysis, presentation skills, and opportunities to build networks at national and international levels. We encourage PCU members to assist one another and try to foster a diverse, vibrant and welcoming postgraduate community.

    To apply for a postgraduate degree in the UCT Biological Sciences department, please see the relevant links below:

    MSc - Master of Science

    PhD - Doctor of Philosophy