Emeritus Professor George M. Branch
Rocky shore, estuarine & coastal ecology; fisheries management & policy; impacts of mining; marine protected areas
Phone: 021 712 4768
I began my career with a focus on the ecology of limpets, which are more diverse and do more extraordinary things than anywhere else in the world. That passion developed into a broader exploration of rocky-shore ecology, competition, predation and other forms of interactions, and I shifted from an observational approach to experimental field work. The impact of alien species such as the blue mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis and the crab Carcinus maenas formed part of the focus of my postgraduate students. My interests then extended to include estuarine ecology, and particularly the remarkable role that sandprawns and mudprawns play. Sandprawns are known as 'bioturbators' because they turn over prodigious quantities of sediment, and powerfully influence the rest of the community, from bacteria to diatoms and other invertebrates. I have enjoyed a profitable and companionable collaboration with Deena Pillay on these amazing animals, including a monographic review of their ecology. From this ecological grounding, I became involved with research on marine invertebrates and algae that are of commercial importance, or are harvested as a source of food by recreational and subsistence fishers, including rock lobsters, abalone, urchins, mussels and seaweeds. This led to involvement with the development of a new fisheries policy and the development of Marine Protected Areas.
I am now nominally 'retired', which means I don't get paid my old professorial salary, but I a ‘senior scholar’ member of staff and am still actively involved with research and the supervision of postgraduate students. One of my current MSc students is Liezl Maritz, who is exploring the ecological role of wetland ponds generated by diamond mining in Namibia, and another MSc is Ndiviwe Baliwe, who is quantifying the effectiveness of the marine protected Areas in Table Mountain National Park. Paula de Coita is completing her PhD on the genetics of false limpets - Siphonaria species - including a rare and endangered species Siphonaria compressa that lives on the blades of eelgrass in Langebaan and Knysna lagoons.
In my 'retirement' I have also become very involved in giving public educational talks on evolution, and with running training course for teachers who are grappling with teaching evolution at school. Two popular articles I wrote have been widely used by teachers and scholars wanting to gain a background and tryng to reconcile evolution with their religious faiths:
Branch G.M. 2009. Teaching and learning about evolution: Pt 1. The background. Quest 5(2): 44-48.
Branch, G.M. 2009. Teaching and learning about evolution: Pt 2. Dealing with the controversy. Quest 5(3): 42-47.
I have been graced with several awards, including a Fellowship of the University of Cape Town, a Distinguished Teachers Award, a Fellowship of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Gold Medal of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa, the Gilchrist Gold Medal for contributions to marine science, the International Temperate Reefs Award for Lifetime Contributions to Marine Science, and an Andrew Mellon Mentoring Fellowship.
Branch, G.M., Griffiths, C.L., Branch, M.L., & Beckley, L.E. 2016. Two Oceans. A Guide to the Marine Life of southern Africa. Struik Nature, Cape Town; 464 pp.
Branch, G.M. and Branch, M.L. 2018. Living Shores – Interacting with southern Africa’s Marine Ecosystems. Struik Nature, Cape Town; 336 pp.
My wife Margo and I, in collaboration with Charles Griffiths and Lynnath Beckley, produced a new edition the book Two Oceans in 2016, which is the only book available the allows identification of the full span of marine life, including algae, invertebrates, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals. This revision involved a complete re-write, the addition of a further 522 species, and a total make-over of the photographs, so that the book now covers 1900 species. Like my previous book Living Shores, Two Oceans was awarded the UCT book award.
Also in retirement Margo and I rewrote our old classic book ‘Living Shores’ and published the revision in 2018, synthesising all the exciting marine science that has taken place since the original book appeared in 1981.
- Branch GM, Griffiths, C.L., Branch M.L., & Beckley, L.E. 2016. Two Oceans. A Guide to the Marine Life of southern Africa. Struik Nature, Cape Town, fourth edition; 464 pp.
- Miranda LS, Branch GM, Collins AG, Hirano YM, Marques AC, Griffiths CL, 2017. Stalked jellyfishes (Cnidaria: Staurozoa) of South Africa with the description of Calvadosia lewisi sp. nov. Zootaxa 4227: 369-389; doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4227.3.4
- Porter SN, Branch GM, Sink KJ, 2017. Changes in shallow-reef community composition along environmental gradients on the East African coast. Mar Biol 164: 101; doi: 10.1007/s00227-017-3130-0.
- Porter SN, Branch GM, Sink KJ, 2017. Sand-mediated divergence between shallow reef communities on horizontal and vertical reef surfaces. African Journal of Marine Science 39: 121-27; doi: 10.2989/1814232X.2017.1303400.
- von der Meden CEO, Atkinson L, Branch GM, Asdar S, Ansorge I, van den Berg M 2017. Assessing long-term change in epibenthic assemblages at the Prince Edward Islands: a comparison between 1988 and 2013. Polar Biology 40: 2171-2185; doi: 10.1007/s00300-017-2132-1
- Branch GM, Branch ML, 2018. Living Shores. Interacting with southern Africa’s marine Ecosystems. Struik Nature Penguin Random House South Africa, Cape Town. 336 pp. ISBN978 1 43170 081 3.
- Sadchatheeswaran S, Branch GM, Moloney CL, Robinson TB, 2018. Impacts of alien ‘ecosystem engineers’ overwhelm inter-annual and seasonal shifts in rocky-shore community composition on Marcus Island, South Africa. Afr. J Mar Sci. 40: 137-147. DOI: 10.2989/1814232X.2018.1462729
- Griffiths CL, Roberts S, Branch GM, Eckel K, Schubart CD, Lemaitre R, 2018. The porcelain crab Porcellana africana Chace, 1956 (Decapoda: Porcellanidae) introduced into Saldanha Bay, South Africa. Bioinvasion Records 7: 133-142. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3391/bir.2018.7.2.04
- Zeeman Z, Branch GM, Pillay D, 2018. Comparisons of life-history patterns of the alien invasive Semimytilus algosus and three other mussel species on the west coast of South Africa. Marine Ecology Progress Series 607: 113-127. DOI: 10.3354/meps12794
- Blamey LK, de Lecea AM, Jones LDS, Branch GM, 2019. Diet of the spiny lobster Jasus paulensis from the Tristan da Cunha Archipelago: comparisons between islands, depths and lobster sizes. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 219: 262-272. doi: 10.1016/j.ecss.2019.02.021
- Sadchatheeswaran S, Moloney CL, Branch GM, Robinson TB, 2019. Using empirical and simulation approaches to quantify merits of rival measures of structural complexity in marine habitats. Marine Environmental Research 149: 157-169. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marenvres.2019.03.014
- Sadchatheeswaran S, Moloney CL, Branch GM, Robinson TB, 2019. Blender interstitial volume: a novel virtual measurement of structural complexity applicable to marine benthic habitats. MethodX 6: 1728-1740. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mex.2019.07.014
- Lombard AT, Durbach I, Harris JM, Mann-Lang J, Mann BQ, Branch GM, Attwood CG, 2020. South Africa’s Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area – winners and losers. Chapter 13 In: Marine Protected Areas: evidence, policy and practice; Eds: Humphreys J & Clark R. Elsevier, pp 237-260.
- Emanuel MP, Pillay D, van der Merwe M, Branch GM, 2020. Interactive effects of pH and temperature on native and alien mussels on the West Coast of South Africa. Afr. J. Mar. Sci. 42: 1-12. https://doi.org/10.2989/1814232X.2019.1699162.
- Zeeman Z, Branch GM, Pillay D, von der Heyden S, 2020. Origin and genetic diversity of the invasive mussel Semimytilus algosus in South Africa relative to source populations in Chile and Namibia. Biological Invasions https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02257-x