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Sheunesu Ruwanza

Professor of Environmental Science, Rhodes University

Prof Ruwanza holds a PhD in botany and MSc in conservation ecology from Stellenbosch University (graduated in 2012 and 2009, respectively). Prior to that, he graduated with an MSc in environmental policy and planning and a BSc Honours in geography from the University of Zimbabwe. He is a Y2 National Research Foundation (NRF) rated scientist and a DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) core team member.

His research career started with work in environmental policy and planning, where he researched the socio-economic contribution of urban agriculture to city dwellers in Zimbabwe. To develop a deeper understanding of environmental policy and planning, he embarked on a research project to examine the impact of land resettlement on vegetation cover and wildlife habitat in Zimbabwe. In 2007, he relocated to South Africa and joined the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), where his career in ecology started. His ecological restoration projects looked at old agricultural fields and riparian system restoration. The above-mentioned projects were funded by Biota Southern Africa Phase III and CIB, in collaboration with Working for Water (WfW). Results of the river restoration project have contributed to the development of alien clearing guidelines by WfW. Besides the above-mentioned research projects, Dr. Ruwanza has also examined alien plant responses to climate change and soil nutrient enrichment. After six years of conducting research in the field of ecological restoration, he decided to grow his understanding of plant ecology by researching ecological changes caused by non-timber forest products (NTFPs) harvesting. The above-mentioned research work was done in collaboration with the NRF-SARCHI chair in Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods at Rhodes University. At a policy level, he has worked on mainstreaming environmental issues in integrated development plans (IDPs) and development of invasive species control plans. Recently, he has been awarded an NRF-Thuthuka grant to examine social and ecological effects of Lantana camara invasion in Vhembe Biosphere, Limpopo province of South Africa.

His broader future vision is to make progress in research and teaching in the field of ecology. His specific research aims are to carry out projects in ecological systems, producing results that positively improve people’s lives as well as contributing to environmental conservation. He believes that research should change local people’s lives. Besides publishing and communicating his research in scientific journals, he also intends to train young South Africans and graduate more students.

Mthethwa, K. & Ruwanza, S. 2023. Topsoil & vegetation dynamics 14 years after Eucalyptus grandis removal in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Plants, 12(17).

Thondhlana, G., Amaka-Otchere, A.B.K. & Ruwanza, S. 2023. Encouraging household energy conservation through transdisciplinary approaches in Ghana and South Africa: Assumptions, challenges, and guidelines. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, 15(1): 201-214.

Ruwanza, S. & Thondhlana, G. 2022. People's perceptions and uses of invasive plant Psidium guajava in Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, Limpopo province of South Africa. Ecosystems & People, 18(1): 64-75.

Ruwanza, S., Thondhlana, G. & Falayi, M. 2022. Research progress and conceptual insights on drought impacts and responses among smallholder farmers in South Africa: a review. Land, 11, 159.

Ruwanza, S. 2021. Effects of Solanum mauritianum Scopoli (bugweed) invasion on soil and vegetation in Vhembe Biosphere reserve, South Africa. Austral Ecology, 46, 342-348.

Ruwanza, S. 2021. Vegetation and soil recovery following Eucalyptus grandis removal in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Journal of African Ecology, 59(1): 241-252.

Pamla, A., Thondhlana, G. & Ruwanza, S. 2021. Persistent droughts and water scarcity: Households' perceptions and practices in Makhanda, South Africa. Land, 10, 593.

Thondhlana, G., Mubaya, C.P, McClure, A., Amaka-Otchere, A.B.K. & Ruwanza, S. 2021. Facilitating urban sustainability through Transdisciplinary (TD) Research: Lessons from Ghana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Sustainability, 13, 6205.

Holmes, P.M., Esler, K.J., Gaertner, M., Geerts, S., Hall, S.A., Nsikani, M.M., Richardson, D.M., & Ruwanza S. 2020. Biological invasions and ecological restoration in South Africa. In. van Wilgen, B.W., Measey, J., Richardson, D.M., Wilson, J.R., Zengeya, T.A (eds.). Biological Invasions in South Africa, Invading Nature - Springer Series in Invasion Ecology, 14, pp 665-700.

Nsikani, M.M., Geerts, S., Ruwanza, S. & Richardson, D.M. 2020. Secondary invasion and weedy native species dominance after clearing invasive alien plants in South Africa: status quo and prognosis. South African Journal of Botany, 132, 338-345.

Ruwanza, S. & Mhlongo, E.S. 2020. Lantana camara invasion along road-river interchanges and roadsides in Soutpansberg, Vhembe Biosphere Reserve in South Africa. South African Journal of Science,116(9/10), Art. #8302, 5 pages. sajs.2020/8302.

Ruwanza, S. 2020. Potential of soil seed bank and ungulate-mediated endozoochory in old field restoration. Ecological Restoration, 38, 9-12.

Ruwanza, S. 2020. Vegetation and soil recovery following Eucalyptus grandis removal in Limpopo province, South Africa. Journal of African Ecology,

Ruwanza, S. 2020. Effects of Lantana camara invasion on vegetation diversity and composition in Vhembe Biosphere reserve, Limpopo province of South Africa. Scientific African 10; e00610;

Ruwanza, S. 2020. Top-soil transfer from natural renosterveld to degraded old fields facilitates native vegetation. Sustainability, 12, 3833; doi:10.3390/su12093833.

Panter, B., Ruwanza, S. 2019. Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) planting in degraded thickets improves soil properties and vegetation diversity. Ecological Restoration 37(2), 76-80. doi: 10.3368/er.37.2.76

Ruwanza, S., Dondofema, F. 2019. Effects of exotic guava (Psidium guajava L.) invasion on soil properties in Limpopo, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology, doi: 10.1111/aje.12675

Thondhlana, G. & Ruwanza, S. 2019. Homestead tree holdings: Composition, uses and challenges in Checheche Growth Point, South East lowveld, Zimbabwe. African Journal of Ecology, 10.1111/aje.12691.

Ruwanza, S., Tshililo, K. 2019. Short term soil and vegetation recovery after Acacia mearnsii removal in Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, South Africa. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 17(2), 1705-1716. doi:

Ruwanza, S. 2019. The edge effect on plant diversity and soil properties in abandoned fields targeted for ecological restoration. Sustainability 11(1), 140.

Hirsch, H., Allsopp, M.H., Canavan, S., Cheek, M., Geerts, S., Geldenhuys, C.J., Harding, G., Hurley, B.P., Jones, W., Keet, J-H., Klein, H., Ruwanza, S., van Wilgen, B.W., Wingfield, M.J., Richardson, D.M. 2019. Eucalyptus camaldulensis in South Africa – past, present, future. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa. doi: 10.1080/00359191x.2019.1669732

Vukeya, E.N., Ruwanza, S., 2018. Soil physical properties underneath Pine elliottii and Eucalyptus cloeziana plantations in Vhembe biosphere, Limpopo Province of South Africa. Journal of Forestry Research.

Ruwanza, S., 2018. Nurse plants have the potential to accelerate vegetation recovery in Lapalala Wilderness old fields, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/aje.12536.

Ruwanza, S., Mulaudzi, D.,2018. Soil physico-chemical properties in Lapalala Wilderness old agricultural fields, Limpopo Province of South Africa.Applied Ecology and Environmental Research, 16(3), 2475-2486.

Ruwanza, S., 2017. Furrows as centers of restoration in old fields of Renosterveld, South Africa. Ecological Restoration, 35(4), 289-291.

Ruwanza, S. 2017. Towards an integrated ecological restoration approach for abandoned agricultural fields in renosterveld, South Africa. South African Journal of Science 113(9/10), Art. #a0228, 4 pages. http://dx.doi. org/10.17159/sajs.2017/a0228

Ruwanza, S., Shackleton, C., 2017. Ecosystem scale impacts of non-timber forest product harvesting: effects on soil nutrients. Journal of Applied Ecology, 54(5), 1515-1525.

Sholto-Douglas, C., Shackleton, C.M., Ruwanza, S., Dold, A., 2017. The effects of indigenous invasive shrubs on plant species richness and soils in semi-arid communal lands. Land degradation and development, 28(7), 2191-2206.

Ruwanza, S. 2017. Invasion of abandoned agricultural fields by Acacia mearnsii affect soil properties in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 15(1): 127-139.


  • –present
    Professor of Environmental Science, Rhodes University