William Bond is the Harry Bolus Professor of Botany in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is an ecologist with experience in mediterranean-climate regions and, over the last fifteen years, in savannas and related vegetation. He is known particularly for his studies of fire as a major process shaping the ecology, geography, and evolutionary history of plant life. Bond was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1948 and grew up in Natal and Zimbabwe. He graduated from the University of Exeter (U.K.) in 1970 returning to voluntary work in Africa in rural development and subsequently working on applied ecological problems in Mozambique and South Africa. He obtained an MSc from the University of Cape Town in 1981 while working on fynbos shrublands in the mountain catchments managed by the Forestry Department there. In 1982 he began doctorate studies at the University of California at Los Angeles which he completed in 1986. He returned to South Africa joining the University of Cape Town in 1988 and was appointed Professor in 1993.

Research Interests

I have worked on diverse aspects of the ecology and evolution of plant life but the central theme is the exploration of the ecology, biogeography and evolution of open (shade-intolerant) ecosystems. I am intrigued by shrublands, grasslands and savannas growing in climates capable of supporting closed forests. Palaeoecological and phylogenetic studies have revealed surprisingly ancient origins for the biota that constitute open ecosystems, surprising because they are often assumed to be produced by felling and burning of forests by people. My colleagues and I have explored both physical and biotic controls on the distribution of these systems using a variety of tools, from remote sensing and physiologically-based global vegetation models, to field studies and glasshouse experiments. Fire, herbivory, soils, and atmospheric chemistry (especially changing CO2), interact within a climate setting to determine the proportions of open versus forested vegetation. Because they are only indirectly influenced by climate, these ecosystems may show rapid and unexpected responses to changing disturbance regimes or to CO2-induced changes in the ability of plants to respond to fire, herbivory, or drought. Recognition of the large global extent of open ecosystems, and a greater appreciation of the sensitivity of the major growth forms to biotic and physical controls, has implications for land management and global change policy at local, regional and global scales.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 63: Environmental Sciences and Ecology

Secondary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology