Research at GEC

The Grootbos Environmental Centre was launched after 25 years of conservation action within the Agulhas  Plain, to create a platform for researchers and students to study and appreciate the unique Cape Floristic Region. This helps us to reach our goals of sharing and contributing to conservation knowledge and to protect our local environment.

Read below for examples and summaries of the research which has been conducted at the GEC. Click here to return to the GEC Homepage

Lichen Surveys

The Vuyo Lab, based at Stellenbosch University, is named after its founder, Dr. Vuyo Mavumengwana who is a biochemist passionate about using natural products to fight disease. He believes that the plants, bacteria and fungi of the Fynbos ecosystem have the potential to yield new and effective drugs for diseases like breast cancer, brain cancer and tuberculosis. Recently, the Vuyo Lab made some exciting discoveries from Fynbos plants sampled at the Grootbos Nature Reserve. They identified four plants, Eriocephalus racemosa, Erica glabella, Hippia frutescens and Salvia africana-lutea, which contain a variety of bioactive compounds that kill breast cancer cells. These four plants are therefore potential candidates for drug development. Besides anticancer projects, other projects in the Vuyo Lab include evaluating Fynbos plants for anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities for the discovery of new tuberculosis drugs. The Vuyo Lab welcomes all forms of collaboration that will facilitate the discovery of effective pharmaceutical agents using natural products.

Collaborators: Dr Vuyo Mavumengwana, Dr Kudzanai Tapfuma, Dr Lucinda Baatjies, Dr Lauren Julius, Mr Francis Adu-Amankwaah, Paula Strauss
Institutions: Stellenbosch University (Tygerberg), Grootbos Foundation

Lichens are classically recognised as a symbiotic association between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacterium. However, recent research shows even more constituents in this community, including bacteria, yeasts and other micro-organisms. Lichens play important roles in ecosystems, such as serving as a food source and nesting material for animals. Lichens lack root systems, taking their nutrients and water directly from the air – this makes them valuable bio-indicators of air quality. However, given their size and cryptic nature, very little work has been done to explore the diversity of the lichens in South Africa. During the autumn of 2023, a group of national and international botanists, geo-botanists and lichenologists visited Grootbos to conduct the first lichen survey for the Reserve. The project aimed to gain preliminary insights into the unknown lichen diversity present on Grootbos. Four different habitat types were surveyed: Afromontane forest, Milkwood forest, Overberg Limestone Fynbos rocky outcrops and Overberg Sandstone fynbos rocky outcrops. From this survey, the lichenologists identified 85 lichen morphospecies, including probable undescribed species, and the total number of species present on the reserve is expected to be much higher. We hope this marks the start of amazing discoveries and further research into the lichen diversity of Agulhas Plain and beyond!

Collaborators: Dr Alan Fryday, Ms Danielle Ward, Prof Nishi Rajakaruna, Dr Sutapa Adhikari, Dr Madeleen Struwig, Paula Strauss
Institutions: Michigan State University, North West University, Grootbos Foundation

The honeybee has been introduced to ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica for pollination and honey production. It’s well known however that honeybees have the potential to compete with native wild pollinators for food. Within the Western Cape, beekeepers are often prevented from placing hives within National Parks due to concern over competition with wild pollinators, however the carrying capacity of Fynbos habitats for beekeeping remains largely unknown. Given the economic and ecological value of both managed honeybees and wild pollinators, there is an urgent need to better understand the interactions between honeybees and the other pollinators to minimise any adverse impacts on local biodiversity. To this end, researchers from the University of Bristol are using landscape nectar supply and insect biomass data to determine the carrying capacity of Fynbos types on Grootbos for apiculture

Collaborators: Ms Maisie Brett, Prof Jane Memmott, Paula Strauss
Institutions: Bristol University, Grootbos Foundation

Since 2018, Iziko entomologist Simon van Noort has been conducting long-term continuous insect inventory surveys at Grootbos using a variety of collecting methods, including Malaise traps, yellow pan traps, pitfall traps, yellow funnel traps, Winkler bag extraction of sifted leaf litter and UV light traps. As part of these surveys three specimens of a new species of a rare Darwin parasitoid wasp in the genus Xorides have been collected. These specimens have emanated from the sorting and identification of the thousands of wasp specimens obtained during these surveys. This new species is so far only known from Grootbos. Together with previous Iziko post-doc and now ARC entomologist, Terry Reynolds, Simon will describe and name the species after Michael Lutzeyer in recognition of his immense conservation efforts. With assistance of Iziko post-doc Mikhaila Gordon and Grootbos entomologist Paula Strauss they will also attempt to figure out the biology and evolutionary relationships of the species. Xorides species are known to be parasitoids of the larvae of wood-boring insects (beetles or moths in the southern Hemisphere). The female parasitoid wasp lays her egg into the grub (larva) of the host insect and on hatching her larva devours the body contents of the host larva eventually pupating and subsequently emerging as an adult wasp.

Collaborators: Dr. Simon van Noort, Dr. Terry Reynolds, Dr Mikhaila Gordon, Paula Strauss


Wilkinson, A., Fabricius, M., Brink, E., Garbett, R., Hahndiek, E., & Williams, K. S. 2024. Leopard dispersal across a fragmented landscape in the Western Cape, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology, Volume 62, e13284.

van Wyk, K.M. 2024. Natural History Notes: Bufonidae: Sclerophrys pantherina (Smith, 1828) – Western Leopard Toad: Interspecific Amplexus. African Herp News, Volume 84, p. 29-33. ISSN 1017-6187

Brett M. F., Strauss P., van Wyk K, Vaughan I. P., Memmott J. 2024. Spillover effects from invasive Acacia alter the plant–pollinator networks and seed production of native plants. The Royal Society 291: 20232941.

Nieto Lawrence, J.A., Daniels, S.R. 2024. Sample design in biodiversity studies matters: a fine-scale study of Lawrence’s velvet worm, Peripatopsis lawrencei (Onychophora: Peripatopsidae), reveals hidden diversity. Invertebrate Systematics, Volume 38 IS23051 DOI:10.1071/IS23051

Pader, S., Gillson, L., Strauss, P., Privett, S.D.J., Hoffman, M.T. 2024. A paleoecological context for forest distribution and restoration in Grootbos Nature Reserve, Agulhas Plain, South Africa. Frontiers in Conservation Science, section Plant Conservation. Volume 5

Cowling, R. M.,  Cawthra, H., Privett, S., Grobler, B. A.  2023. The vegetation of Holocene coastal dunes of the Cape south coast, South Africa. PeerJ.

Greenberg, S., Drimie, S., Losch, B., May, J. 2023. From Local Initiatives to Coalitions for an Effective Agroecology Strategy: Lessons from South Africa. Sustainability, 15, 15521.

Helm, C. W., Bateman, M. D.,  Carr, A S., Cawthra, H. C., De Vynck, J. C., Dixon, M. G., Lockley, M. G., Stear, W., Venter, J. A.  2023. Pleistocene fossil snake traces on South Africa’s Cape south coast. Ichnos, Volume 30, Issue 2, p. 98 -114. 

Haran, J. M., Marvaldi, A. E.,  Benoit, L., Oberlander, K., Stals, R., Oberprieler, R. G. 2023. Revision of the enigmatic South African Cryptolaryngini (Coleoptera, Curculionidae), with description of a new genus and twenty-two new species. European Journal of Taxonomy.

Hinde. K., Wilkinson, A., Tokota, S., Amin, R., O’Riain, M. J., Williams, K. S. 2023. Leopard density and the ecological and anthropogenic factors influencing density in a mixed-use landscape in the Western Cape, South Africa. Plos One, Volume 788

Muller, K., Veste, M., Privett,S.D.J., Strauss, P., Makunga, N., Griebenow, S., Valentine, A. 2023. Proteaceae species show different strategies for phosphorus acquisition and utilisation in P poor soils in the Mediterranean-type Fynbos ecosystem. Flora, Volume 305, 152346

Adu-Amankwaah, F., Tapfuma, K. I., Hussan, R. H., Tshililo, H., Baatjies, L., Masiphephethu, M. V., Mabasad, L., Mavumengwana, V. 2022. Cytotoxic activity of Cape Fynbos against triple-negative breast cancer cell line. South African Journal of Botany (150)  P. 702-710,

Boxriker, M., Privett, S.D.J., Richardson, D.M., Gaertner, M. 2022. Active restoration in South African fynbos – A long-term perspective from the Agulhas Plain. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa. 

Froeschlin, N.,  Privett, S.D.J.  Richardson, D. M., Gaertner, M. 2022. Fynbos vegetation recovery twelve years after removal of invasive Eucalyptus trees. South African Journal of Botany. Volume 147, p.764-773.

Haran, Julien M. 2021. The Smicronychini of southern Africa (Coleoptera, Curculionidae): Review of the tribe and description of 12 new species. European Journal of Taxonomy, 735(1), p. 34–73. 10.5852/ejt.2021.735.1239

Haran, J. M., Hansen, S., Benoit, L., Pia Addison. 2020. Description of five new species in the genus Phlyctinus Schoenherr (Coleoptera, Curculionidae): a first step in deciphering the P. callosus complex. European Journal of Taxonomy, (669).

Liu, W. P. A., Phillips, L. M., Terblanche, J.S., Janion-Scheepers, C.,  Chown, S. L. 2020. Strangers in a strange land: Globally unusual thermal tolerance in Collembola from the Cape Floristic Region. Functional Ecology.


Privett, S., Bek, D., Bailey, R., Binns, T., Raimondo, D., Kirkwood, D., Euston-Brown, D. 2020. Conservation in the context of wildflower harvesting: the development and implementation of a Vulnerability Index on the Agulhas Plain of South Africa. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Volume 63, issue 10, p.1738–1757.

Lucke, S., Mamo, E., Koenigstorfer, J. 2019.  Exploring the meaning of growing food in community gardens to South African township residents: A photovoice study. Health and Place, Volume 55, p. 165 -176.

Privett, S.D.J., Krug, R.M., Forbes, G.,  Gaertner, M. 2014.  Wild flower harvesting on the Agulhas Plain, South Africa: Impact of harvesting intensity under a simulated commercial harvesting regime for two re-seeding and two re-sprouting fynbos species. South African Journal of Botany,  Volume 94, p.270 – 275.

Gaertner, M., Nottebrock, H., Fourie, H., Privett, S.D.J., Richardson, D. M. 2012. Plant invasions, restoration, and economics: Perspectives from South African fynbos. Perspectives in Plant Ecology Evolution and Systematics. Volume 14, p.341-343.

Swart, K., Bob, U., Knott, B., Salie, M. 2011. A sport and sociocultural legacy beyond 2010: A case study of the Football Foundation of South Africa. Development of Southern Africa, Volume 28, p. 425- 428

Gaertner, M. & Richardson, D. M.,  Privett, S.D.J. 2011. Effects of Alien Plants on Ecosystem Structure and Functioning and Implications for Restoration: Insights from Three Degraded Sites in South African Fynbos. Environmental management. Volume 48. P.57-69. 10.1007/s00267-011-9675-7

Magee, A.R., Van Wyk, B.E., Tilney, P.M. and Downie, S.R., 2009. A taxonomic revision of Capnophyllum (Apiaceae: Apioideae). South African Journal of Botany, Volume 75,  Issue 2, p.283-291.

Joubert, L., Esler, K. J., Privett, S. D. J. 2009. The effect of ploughing and augmenting natural vegetation with commercial fynbos species on the biodiversity of Overberg Sandstone fynbos on the Agulhas Plain, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, Volume 75, issue 3, p. 526-531.

Mergili, M. and Privett, S. D. J 2008. Vegetation and vegetation-environment relationships at Grootbos Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. Bothalia, Volume 38, 1

Wilfried T. , Slingsby, J. A., Privett, S. D. J., Cowling, R. M. 2007. Stochastic Species Turnover and Stable Coexistence in a Species-Rich, Fire-Prone Plant Community. PLoS ONE, Volume 2, Issue 9, e938

Whitehouse, C., Fellingham, A. 2007. New species and notes on the genus Cliffortia (Rosaceae). Bothalia Volume 37, p. 9-22.

Privett, S. D. J., Heydenrych, B. J., Cowling, R. M., 2002. Putting Biodiversity to Business on the Agulhas Plain. Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Development: Case Studies from South Africa. World Bank.  p.101 – 116

Privett, S. D. J., Cowling, R. M., Taylor, H. C. 2001. Thirty years of change in the fynbos vegetation of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, South Africa. Bothalia, Volume 31, 1.