About us

We are a group of academics and students based in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.  Our research extends from the ecology and conservation of large mammalian herbivores, to animal movements, herbivores population dynamics, impacts of herbivores on vegetation, the spatiotemporal dynamics of woody vegetation inside and outside protected areas, fire ecology and rural livelihoods. Some of the latest technology include GPS collars transmitting animal locations in real-time via satellites, as well as airborne laser-scanning to detect tree canopy heights and structures. Field and remotely sensed data are synthesised using computational models and data analysis techniques.

Current staff members that are part of this research group are Professor Francesca Parrini, Professor Jason Marshal, Professor Sally Archibald, Professor Norman Owen-Smith and Dr Jolene Fisher. Honorary affiliates include Dr Joe Chirima from ARC, Prof. Tim O’Connor from SAEON, Dr Caroline Lehmann from the University of Edinburgh, Dr Catherine Parr from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Izak Smit from SANParks.


The Centre of African Ecology (CAE) has a long history that goes back to two earlier research groups in ecology established at Wits University: the Centre for Resource Ecology, established by Professor Brian Walker in the Department of Botany in 1980, and the Resource Ecology Group, formed by Professor Mike Mentis in 1990. CAE was established by Norman Owen-Smith in 1992 after Professor Mentis left. Formally its name is the African Ecology and Conservation Biology Research Group, with the nick-name “Centre” retained as a legacy. The formation of CAE linked academic staff from Zoology and Botany Departments. With the establishment of the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences in 2000, CAE was absorbed as a research group within this school.  Besides research activities, CAE members launched the postgraduate programme in Resource Conservation Biology in 1992.

Following Professor Owen-Smith’s formal retirement (but continued involvement in research), Professor Barend Erasmus took over leadership in 2013.  Following Professor Erasmus’ move to direct the Global Change Institute, Professor Francesca Parrini assumed leadership in 2015.

Our mission

Our mission is to foster the development and maintenance of a centre of excellence in ecology and related biological disciplines, and their application to problems of conserving and managing biological resources, with special reference to African environments. Among all of us we supervise a large cohort of postgraduate students, from PhD to MSc and Honours.

Through this blog, we hope to be able to showcase some of the exciting projects we and our students are involved in.

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