Prof Timm Hoffman

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Prof Timm Hoffman holds the Leslie Hill Chair of Plant Conservation in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town.  He obtained his PhD from UCT in 1989 and completed a post-doc with the Jornada Long-Term Ecological Research site in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1990 whereafter he joined the National Botanical Institute (now the South African National Biodiversity Institute) as a researcher.  Together with colleagues from PLAAS he undertook a national review of land degradation in South Africa and for the last ten years has focused on long-term environmental change in southern Africa.  He joined the University of Cape Town in 2001 and is currently Director of the Plant Conservation Unit in the Department of Biological Sciences at UCT where he teaches and supervises post graduate students interested in how southern African environments have changed over the last century in response to changes in climate and land use.

Abstract for plenary panel

Changing patterns of rural land use and land cover in South Africa and their implications for land reform

South African environments have changed considerably over the last 100 years in response to land use and climate. The general trend has been for a reduction in livestock numbers since the mid-20th century in most commercial and some communal farming areas and an abandonment of cultivation in marginal environments and in large parts of the communal areas. The switch to game farming from livestock production is another major trend of the last few decades.  Fire is a major driver of landscape change and fire regimes have also changed significantly since 1950 although long-term regional data sets are not available. Climate trends indicate that there has been an increase in temperature over the last 100 years with little change in annual rainfall amounts.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have more than doubled over the last 150 years.

These changes in climate and land use have important implications for plant cover and ecosystem processes across the country.  In the arid, western parts of South Africa, shrublands have changed little over the last 100 years although trees have increased along major river courses and drainage lines. In the semi-arid, central parts of South Africa, grasslands have expanded westwards into the dwarf shrublands of the Karoo.  The mesic savanna areas of the eastern part of the country have changed dramatically over the last 50 years with bush encroachment converting large areas of open grassland to closed woodland and thicket. Abandoned fields are particularly susceptible to being encroached by woody species. Although the full impacts of these changes are poorly understood, they have important cascade effects for species diversity and ecosystem function.  They also affect the type of farming that can occur in an area.  Some of the implications of these changes for land reform will be explored.


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