Conserving forests : a biophilosophical analysis of the Durban region.
Coastal forests are a significant component of the remaining natural vegetation in the greater Durban area. Being closely associated with an historical and rapidly developing urban environment, these forests are invariably small, isolated and variously disturbed. The nature of disturbance as an ecological phenomenon, coupled with unknowable disturbance histories and ongoing disturbance events poses particular challenges to traditional and tradition-bound attempts to understand and manage such forests. The intention of this study was to discuss as deeply as possible the nature of such challenges, while at the same time considering the broader relevance of practising ecology in the urban environment. At a practical level the forests were sampled in an attempt to describe forest communities, to assess the effects of disturbance on them, and to gain insight into the effects of different disturbance histories and regimes on forest physiognomy and floristics with a view to proposing management guidelines. Various descriptive approaches, as well as a multivariate analysis using Detrended Correspondence Analysis were used in an attempt to interpret the data collected. The unsatisfying nature of the data led the thesis to propose a review of the paradigm in which its methods were rooted. Both the data, and the broader issues on which the thesis touched were discussed in terms of biology's rootedness in philosophical assumptions. This led the thesis to a methodological position aligning it both epistemologically and ontologically with a philosophical method of investigation called phenomenology. While other philosophical contentions were touched upon, the main conclusion of the thesis was that phenomenological thinking, while challenging to apply, was relevant to philosophically mature and methodologically appropriate attempts to conserve the forests with which the thesis was concerned.