After completing her Masters in Geoinformatics in 2011 at Stellenbosch University, Dr Nyasha Magadzire (31) moved back to Zimbabwe in hope of finding a job and settling back in her home country, but the move only resulted in a year of unemployment.
“That same year, my Masters supervisor (Prof Helen de Klerk) encouraged me to apply for a PhD position advertised by the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), the application was successful and, being newly married at that time, I made the bitter-sweet move back to South Africa."
Coming from a Geography and Environmental Studies background, Nyasha says her PhD required her to delve into quite a lot of ecology and statistics, which was a huge adjustment for her but she managed.
“I had very supportive supervisors; they are so passionate about teaching, and spending time helping you." she said.
Nyasha said being a wife and juggling a PhD full time was not easy, but luckily her husband made the move to South Africa to pursue his studies at Stellenbosch University as well.
“We eventually had a baby in 2016."
She described this period as quite hectic as she was not sure how having a baby right in the middle of her PhD would impact on her studies, especially being on a bursary and aiming to finish in record time.
“It took me a while to break the news of my pregnancy because I was worried I would have to stop my studies."
To Nyasha's relief, her supervisors were extremely supportive and allowed her to work at her own pace as she transitioned into juggling the PhD and motherhood.
Nyasha`s research focussed on the role of fire in modelling fynbos species, particularly in the face of climate change; it came up with several interesting points like how strong an influence fire has on the distribution of fynbos species, which plants are likely most vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regime, and several others.
“The point of the research was to improve our understanding of the drivers and underlying ecosystem processes the shape vegetation distributions in the Cape Floristic Region. A key point that came out here is that changes in fire regime will likely have a greater impact on vegetation in fire dependent ecosystems than changes in climate in the future."
“While fire is important for the regeneration of most fynbos plant species, too frequent fires or the occurrence of out of season fires will negatively impact the persistence of these plants."
“Scientists anticipate fire regimes will be greatly altered as a result of climate change, most fynbos vegetation takes a long time to recover, if you have a fire every two /three years, it never has enough time to reach maturity before the next fire, we need to start thinking about how this will affect our landscapes especially in terms of conservation."
She said private citizens can contribute to conservation efforts by respecting and maintaining the integrity of areas that still hold fynbos species, planting indigenous plants and keeping an eye out for invasive alien plant species like wattles, which take a lot of water from our indigenous plants and act as fuel for fires.
Nyasha is the second born in a family of four kids, her mother is a believer in education.
“She taught us that anything can be taken away from you but your education remains, it widens and broadens your horizons and possibilities."