Notes on a Cape Town Botanist, Zoë Poulsen

Notes on a Cape Town Botanist, Zoë Poulsen

Zoe PoulsenZoë Poulsen is one of the first PhD students to build collaboration between the OLCT and the University of Cape Town (UCT), working with Dr Sampson Chimpango, Prof Timm Hoffmann, Dr Pippin Anderson, and Associate Prof Muthama Muasya as her supervisors.

Zoë is undertaking conservation-focused research into the impacts of livestock grazing on the ecology of Renosterveld and developing restoration techniques for this Critically Endangered vegetation type. The results of her Doctoral research will hopefully help to improve the existing management guidelines for Renosterveld in the Overberg.

She was born in a small village called Portesham near Dorchester in the UK that Thomas Hardy used in his novel ‘The Trumpet Major’, when Bob Loveday visited Captain Hardy to ask if he could serve on the Victory. Her interest in Biology and specifically Botany developed in her early teens, when she worked as a volunteer at Tresco Abbey Gardens, on the Isles of Scilly off the Cornwall coast.

She later worked at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, as an intern at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, and did her undergraduate degree in Geography at Royal Holloway College, University of London. It wasn’t long before Zoë developed an appetite for travelling further afield and was awarded a scholarship for her undergraduate project to work on environmental change on the Olifants River in the Cederberg Mountains (RSA).

This was when the Africa bug bit her big time and she returned to South Africa to do her MSc in Botany with Professor Timm Hoffman at the Plant Conservation Unit (UCT). Here she studied the changes in distribution of indigenous forest in Table Mountain National Park (1880-2012), using aerial photographs and ground-based repeat photography, to examine temporal change in spatial extent of Afro-Temperate and Coastal Forest in response to different ecological drivers through GIS-based analysis.

Zoe at Swartberg Mountains

In her spare time she is actively involved in the Friends of Rondebosch Common and is carrying out a survey of alien vegetation at the Rondebosch Common. This nature reserve consists of the Critically Endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos and is home to over 250 plant species within a relatively small area (about 38 ha).

When Zoë is not botanising, she loves to hike and explore the mountains around Cape Town or to cook and bake for friends and family, preferably with home-grown produce. She is also a keen blogger and photographer and you may like to follow her Notes from a Cape Town Botanist blog or Facebook page.