Bankrotbos Project

Extract from a letter from Professor Nigel Barker of Department of the Plant and Soil Sciences, at the University of Pretoria

“Almost every time I visit the Waterberg, someone asks me about bankrotbos… And this has had me thinking for some time. I am now gearing up to try and get funding for a project to look at the impacts and control of this species. I also have a new PhD student, Mr Yondela Norman, who we think will now be doing his research on this beast.

I have done a bit of reading around this plant, and it seems as far back as 60 years ago, botanists were warning of its spread. As it is indigenous, it is not a true “alien invasive” and hence not been on the radar of those big research groups focusing on aliens. Some work has been done on the control or eradication of this plant on the highveld, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been “mainstreamed” about it, and its impact on aspects such as biodiversity have not been studied. However, from a very preliminary study currently underway based on plots at Syringa Sands / Qulle, we see that infestations have a strong negative impact on plant diversity, and probably invertebrate diversity too. This work needs to be expanded.

We want to study the impact of this plant at a range of levels from biodiversity impacts through to economic impacts, and I am putting together a team of experts (all at University of Pretoria, so far) in remote sensing, species distribution modelling, soil science, environmental economics etc…. as summarised in the attached outline. This is a multi / interdisciplinary project, and the inclusion of economists in the project is definitely novel, and we will eventually need to gather data on land values etc.

I am also going to start collaborating with Prof Kaera Coetzer, who has a big project on Biosphere reserves. She is new to UP, and until we met at a workshop last Monday, we didn’t know of each other’s interest in the Waterberg Biosphere. Kaera is a Social Ecological Systems researcher, and brings a new perspective and skill set to the understanding of biodiversity management and conservation. Perhaps this can be a discussion the WNC could also have at its next meeting?

Bearing in mind that a PhD is only 3 years, we need to get started with on the ground studies and need to identify infested areas / sites. While we want to frame much of this work in the Waterberg, this species is a problem country wide, so sites in the Free state etc will also need to be identified.

So… if you have land with bankrotbos infestations, or know of areas / landowners with this problem, please let us know.”

If you would like to participate in this project email me at