Dr. Tony Swemmer

As Node Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node, I am involved in a wide range of long-term environmental research projects, and associated science engagement. My current interests include the role of riparian areas in savanna ecosystems, the impact of elephants on savanna tree communities, and the restoration of grass-dominated ecosystems, from over-grazed, arid rangelands to high-rainfall montane systems.


Dr. Dave Thompson

As Biodiversity Scientist I work across the research platforms of the SAEON Ndlovu node, but mainly at the Haenertsburg and Swartbos mountain observatories, and the Satara Experimental Burn Plots. My interests are skewed towards plant population dynamics and community-level responses to disturbances such as fire, herbivory, and climate variability/change. However, my curiosity is sufficiently broad to accommodate research in pollination ecology, population genetics, river flow, crop phenology, mammal behaviour, and sustainable resource use. I am passionate about training (and learning from) postgraduate students and engaging with high school learners.


Mr. Joe Sibiya

As Science Engagement Officer I am responsible for coordinating Science Education and Outreach activities at SAEON Ndlovu Node.  The activities I coordinate include science camps, school based science projects, educator workshops and webinars with the aim of creating awareness of environmental issues amongst learners, educators and the general public. My interest is to encourage learners to appreciate the value of science in their daily lives and to follow careers in environmental sciences.


Mr. Rion Lerm

I am the Senior Technician of the SAEON Ndlovu Node and am involved with a wide range of long-term environmental research infrastructure (maintaining meteorological and hydrological instruments and collating the data). I am also deeply involved with node research projects. My current interests include animal community ecology, functional ecology (specifically birds) and the potential drivers that shape these communities in savanna. My interests stretch further toward remote sensing, GIS and biostatistics that I enjoy teaching to those interested in exploring these technical realms. I am also a PhD candidate in Ecology where I investigate bird community dynamics using citizen science data inside and outside Kruger National Park.


Mr. Mightyman Mashele

Following many years of assisting researchers working in the Kruger National Park, I took up a permanent position of Field Assistant for the SAEON Ndlovu Node in 2010. Based in Welverdiend village, I am responsible for collection of field data on fuelwood harvesting, grass and tree species composition and structure at most of the node sites. I also regularly assist visiting post-graduate students with their fieldwork.


Ms. Una Manave

As Administrative Assistant, I provide administrative support to ensure efficient communication and operation between the Ndlovu Node, National Office and external stakeholders and suppliers. I also support managers and employees through a variety of tasks.

Post-docs, Fellows and Associates

Keenan photo

Dr. Keenan Stears

Keenan is a post-doctoral researcher at the Ndlovu Node and the University of California, Santa Barbara under the mentorship of Dr Dave Thompson (SAEON Ndlovu) and Prof. Doug McCauley (UCSB). Keenan is researching how anthropogenic disturbance to bottom-up processes in intensively-managed savannas influences herbivore communities. The aim of this research is to assess how different management practices influence soil nutritional properties, plant species composition, and vegetation quality and, ultimately, how these management-mediated effects may regulate bottom-up control of herbivore communities. The research falls under a larger research program: Project TREE (Tri-trophic Relationships in Engineered Ecosystems) active at the Sabi Sands Wildtuin–Mala Mala Complex site.

Melissa Schmitt Photo

Dr. Melissa H. Schmitt

Melissa is a previous node post-doctoral researcher, now based at the University of Mpumalanga under the mentorship of Prof Dan Parker. However, she retains affiliation with the node and the University of California Santa Barbara. Melissa’s current project explores the interactive effects of predation risk and food quality on browser habitat use. The study aims to understand how changes in savanna vegetation structure alter herbivore and carnivore communities as well as the feedback between herbivory pressure and plant chemical defences in savanna trees. This research falls under a larger research program: Project TREE (Tri-trophic Relationships in Engineered Ecosystems) active at the Sabi Sands Wildtuin–Mala Mala Complex site.

Deron Burkepile

Prof. Deron Burkepile

Deron is at the University of California, Santa Barbara and is an honorary SAEON Research Associate. He is primarily a marine community ecologist, but has a long history of collaboration with the Ndlovu node at the Satara Experimental Burn plots in the savannas of the Kruger National Park. Here his research has focused on the interactive effects and feedbacks of herbivory, fire and productivity on driving the ecology of African savannas. He is passionate about informing the conservation and restoration of the systems he works in, and strongly advocates for comparing commonalities and differences across ecosystems to facilitate a broader and deeper understanding of ecological patterns.

Students (current)


Wynand Muller

Wynand is a Masters’ student in Ecology at North-West University, under the supervision of Prof. Frances Siebert (NWU) and Dr. Dave Thompson (SAEON Ndlovu node). He grew up on a nature reserve in Mpumalanga and is passionate about ‘all things natural’, and ecology in particular. He completed his undergraduate studies in Zoology and Geography, and mapped aquatic pathogens during his Honours. His MSc research, titled Linking butterfly diversity to forb community responses to fire and herbivory, makes use of the long-term fire treatments of the Satara EBP platform to understand the impacts of disturbance on host plant-butterfly interactions in savanas. Although much is known about the effects of these disturbances on the herbaceous vegetation, almost nothing is known about how these effects percolate to higher trophic levels. Butterflies are known to be sensitive to environmental change, which makes them ideal indicators of ecosystem resilience and functioning in the face of land management decisions under global climate.


Marlize Muller

Marlize is a PhD candidate in grassland ecology, North-West University, under the supervision of Prof. Frances Siebert (NWU), Dr. Anja Linstädter (Potsdam University), Dr. Dave Thompson (SAEON Ndlovu node) and Prof. Stefan Siebert (NWU). She is passionate about grasslands and hopes to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of these systems. Her PhD research, titled Effects of climate variability, land-use change and management on grassland plant diversity and ecosystem function in South Africa, makes use of existing floristic datasets covering several land-use types across the grassland biome of South Africa, including the Haenertsburg Nature Reserve observatory. Marlize’s study will quantify the floristic losses/gains driven by land-use change, rainfall variability and fire in grassland ecosystems.


Rion Lerm

Rion is Senior Technician at the node and is registered for his PhD in Ecology at the, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Pietermaritzburg under the supervision of Prof. Colleen Downs (UKZN), Dr. Dave Thompson (SAEON Ndlovu node) and Dr. Dave Ehlers Smith (UKZN). He is passionate about biodiversity, especially birds, and has a keen interest in community and functional ecology. His PhD research, titled Bird distribution dynamics of the Kruger National Park and surrounds: Drivers and Diversity, investigates how bird communities inside and outside Kruger National Park vary over space and time. Until now, no comprehensive study has been done to quantify the importance of this protected area for bird communities.


Tsumbedzo Ramalevha

Tsumbedzo spent two years at the node as an intern before embarking on his PhD studies in plant ecology at North-West University under the supervision of Prof. Frances Siebert and Dr. Dave Thompson (SAEON Ndlovu Node). Tsumbedzo grew up in rural Venda in Limpopo and has aspirations of contributing to nature conservation and leadership in science. His PhD research, titled Responses of belowground bud banks to fire and herbivory in a semi-arid savannah, makes use of the long-term treatments of the Satara EBP platform to understand the impacts of fire and herbivory on belowground bud banks. Belowground bud banks are a reflection of the vegetative regenerative capacity of the vegetation, and are only relatively recently recognized as a major contributor of ecosystem resilience and functioning in the face of land mismanagement and global climate change.

Are you a post-graduate student registered at a South African institution? Then, consider joining the SAEON Graduate Student Network.

Students (alumni)



Dr. Keenan Stears (Post-doc., 2021; Tri-trophic Relationships in Engineered Environments (TREE): Quantifying the influence of anthropogenic disturbance to bottom-up processes on herbivore communities)


Dr. Melissa Schmitt (Post-doc., 2020; Tri-trophic Relationships in Engineered Environments (TREE): Determining the ecological effects of a decade of intensive bush-clearing in a protected-area savanna)



Dr. Amy Marshall (PhD., 2021; The complex socio-ecological system of the lowveld marula bioeconomy catchment)


Dr. Shaeden Gokool (PhD., 2017; )


Tercia Strydom (PhD., 2015; )



Clarissa Minnaar (MSc., 2020; Drought effects on the herbaceous community structure of transformed Mopaneveld)
Kaylee van den Bosch (MSc., 2020; An assessment of the reproductive ecology of the Pepperbark tree (Warburgia salutaris) in the Kruger National Park, South Africa)


Joshua Weiss (MSc., 2019; Spatio-temporal change in riparian woodlands of the Kruger National Park: drivers and implications)
Lwendo Rasifudi (MSc., 2019; )
Thobile Dlamini (MSc., 2019; Differential herbivore occupancy of fire -manipulated savannas in the Satara region of the Kruger National Park, South Africa)


Sylvie Kremer-Kohne (MSc., 2018; Population structure and ecology of Aloe lettyae, an endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland endemic)


Ashley Lipsett (MSc., 2017; The spatio-temporal effects of rainfall on streamflow within the Kruger National Park, South Africa.)
Dawid Smith (MSc., 2017; Forb and soil microbe diversity patterns of ultramafic tailings facilities at Phalaborwa)
Reinhardt Raubenheimer (MSc., 2017; )
Thabo Mohlala (MSc., 2017; Fish communities, Klaserie River, climate change)


Amy Trent (MSc., 2016; Mammal utilization of artificial water sources in the central Kruger National Park: Contemporary seasonal patterns and implications for climate change scenarios.)
Jacob Rossouw (MSc., 2016; Application of plant growth promoting substances and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi for phytostabilisation of mine tailings)
Nanette van Staden (MSc., 2016; Herbaceous species diversity, redundancy and resilience of Mopaneveld across different land-uses)
Nicoletta Maraschin (MSc., 2016; Faunal distribution in relation to rainfall patterns in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park: 2004 2013)
Robert Taylor (MSc., 2016; Temporal and spatial variation in population structure of the African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) in the Kruger National Park, South Africa)
Rose Mapula (MSc., 2016; A vegetation survey and mapping of the Woodbush Granite Grassland)
Thomas Sikhwivhilu (MSc., 2016; Climate factors controlling the distribution of plant species across an altitudinal gradient: A case study from Marakele National Park, Limpopo Province, South Africa)


Brenden Pienaar (MSc., 2015; The biogeography of Brachystegia woodland relicts in Southern Africa)
Corne Niemandt (MSc., 2015; Anthropogenic impacts on the highly threatened Woodbush Granite Grasslands in Limpopo, South Africa)
Tracey Johnson (MSc., 2015; )


Jennifer Fichett (MSc., 2013; Phenological response of citrus flowering to climate variability and change in Iran: 1960-2010)



Bonginkosi Mbendana (Hons., 2021; Exploring bush encroachment in the Woodbush Granite Grassland, Haenertsburg Nature Reserve: Using Landsat datasets to map land cover/land use change)


Mokotjie Mfisa (Hons., 2020; Responses of plant species cover to rainfall variability in a critically endangered South African grassland)


Bronwen Moodie (Hons., 2019; In vitro conservation of South African plants)


Nyiko Mutileni (Hons., 2016; Veld management strategies for the endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland, Limpopo provice, South Africa)


Dennis Komape (Hons., 2015; )


Neo Molomo (Hons., 2014; A change analysis of the Malahlapanga wetland in KNP using GIS and aerial imagery: 1942-2012)


Ashley Lipsett (Hons., 2013; Assessing the spatio-temporal relationship between rainfall and Kruger National Park stream flow)
Lerato Mabe (Hons., 2013; )
Nanette van Staden (Hons., 2013; )
Nicoletta Maraschin (Hons., 2013; Webcams monitor faunal use of water troughs in Kgalagadi NP)
Zander Liebenberg (Hons., 2013; )


Amy Trent (Hons., 2012; The value of webcam imagery in savanna ecology: Climate impacts on faunal use of artificial waterholes in the Kruger National Park)


Jennifer Fichett (Hons., 2011; The effects of climate variability, tree age and management practise on increases in mango yields at Bavaria Estate, Hoedspruit, South Africa)