School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Congress Award for PhD Candidate’s Presentation on Nutrient Enrichment in Grasslands

Doctoral candidate Ms Naledi Zama won the award for the best platform presentation by a young scientist at the Grassland Society of Southern Africa’s (GSSA) 54th Annual Congress in Upington.

Zama, who is completing her studies at UKZN through the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Professional Development Programme, is being supervised by Professor Kevin Kirkman, Dr Michelle Tedder and Dr Ntuthuko Mkhize.

Her research for a PhD in Grassland Science involves examining how 68 years of uninterrupted nutrient enrichment, by way of adding fertilisers, has affected productivity, species diversity and soil properties on a natural South African grassland. She is also looking at how climatic conditions have impacted in the variables mentioned above over the years, which may allow scientists to make predictions as to how climate change may affect grasslands.

‘This is important because changes in rainfall and temperature conditions have consequences for veld managers, and so researching these factors together is extremely important for overall veld conditions, including biodiversity, soil quality and more,’ said Zama.

Zama is using data from the long-term veld fertiliser experiment at UKZN’s Ukulinga Research Farm, which has been operating since 1951. Few papers have assessed the cumulative effects of nutrient enrichment on the veld, and the initiation of a nutrient reversal experiment on bushlands is aiding researchers in determining how veld reacts to a withdrawal of nutrients, an experiment that is the first of its kind in southern Africa.

‘If we wish to continue using our grasslands sustainably by not compromising biodiversity and soil quality, we need to assess how adding these nutrients affects overall veld health,’ said Zama. ‘With climate change occurring, incorporating rainfall and temperature patterns will also assist in providing predictions for the future.’

Zama, who completed her undergraduate, honours and masters studies at UKZN, plans to pursue research opportunities at the ARC after completing her PhD to strengthen her research skills. She hopes to one day lecture at UKZN in order to do what she enjoys most – conducting research and interacting with students.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Tauriq Jamalie