Adam G. West


Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

PhD (Utah) 

MSc (Cape Town)

adam.west -at-

+27 21 650 3628 (office)


Employment and Education

- Deputy Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Town (2024, 2019-2021)

- Biological Sciences Department, University of Cape Town (2013-present)

- Botany Department, University of Cape Town (2010-2013)

- Post-Doctoral Fellow (2007-2010). University of California, Berkley (Dawson Lab) and University of Cape Town. 

- PhD (2006). University of Utah. Ehleringer Lab.

- MSc (1999) with distinction. University of Cape Town.


Distinguished Teacher Award, University of Cape Town 

- UCT College of Fellows Young Researcher Award

Research interests

My research focuses on plant responses to the environment, with a particular interest in how these may be influenced by human activity.  The use of stable isotopes is a unifying theme throughout my research. Currently, my research interests are focused around: 

- The ecophysiology of drought. Water-use and the impacts of drought in the highly biodiverse Western Cape flora. 

- Fire and plant ecophysiology.

- The spatial modeling of isotopic information using geographic information systems. 

- The stable isotope ecology of biogenic compounds (eg. cycads, hair, cellulose), both modern and ancient. 


Fynbos ecophysiology

Predawn drought measurements, TMNP

Forensic tracing of illegally harvested cycads

Spatial distribution of water isotopes


Undergraduate teaching

BIO1000F Cell Biology

BIO2017F Plant Diversity and Functional Biology

BIO3013F Global Change Ecology - This class is supported by DataCamp


Press reports

Table Mountain Group Aquifer abstraction (2018) - interviews on NEWS24 and Cape Talkreport in SCIENCE

Drones and fynbos (2018) - reports on SAFARIOUS, and audio interview on SAFM

Swingler, Helen (2015) Knowledge is not fixed in textbooks: Interview with distinguished teacher Dr. Adam West. University of Cape Town daily news. 30 Nov 2015.  

Nordling, Linda (2014) Forensic chemistry could stop African plant thieves: Isotope analysis could help in the rush to save South Africa's cycads from extinction. Nature 514(17) DOI:10.1038/nature.2014.16010

Newton, Carolyn (2014) Rarer than rhino and just as prized by poachers. University of Cape Town webpage. Also: YouTube video


West, AG, Atkins, K, van Blerk, J.J. and Skelton, RP. (2024) Assessing vulnerability to embolism and hydraulic safety margins in reed-like Restionaceae Plant Biology. DOI: 10.1111/plb.13644

van Mazijk, R., West, AG, Verboom, G.A., Elliot, T.L., Bures, P. and Muasya, A.M. (2024) Genome size variation in Cape schoenoid sedges (Schoeneae) and its ecophysiological consequences American Journal of Botany. DOI: 10.1002/ajb2.16315

West, AG, Bloy, ST, Skelton, RP and Midgley, JJ. (2023) Hydraulic segmentation explains differences in loss of branch conductance caused by fire Tree Physiology. DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpad108

Skelton, RP, West, AG., Buttner, D. and Dawson, TE. (2023) Consistent responses to moisture stress despite diverse growth forms within mountain fynbos communities Oecologia. DOI: 10.1007/s00442-023-05326-9

van Blerk, Justin J., West, Adam G., Smit, J., Altwegg, R. and Hoffman, M.T. (2022) UAVs improve detection of seasonal growth responses during post-fire shrubland recovery. Landscape Ecology. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-022-01535-4

van Blerk, Justin J., West, Adam G., Skelton, Robert P. and Midgley, Jeremy J. (2022) Phenological asynchrony between sexes of Restionaceae can explain culm d13C differences. Austral Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/aec.13206

Lu, M; Bond, W.J., Sheffer, E., Cramer, M.D., West A.G., Allsop, N., February, E.C., Chimphango, S.C., Ma, Z., Slingsby, J. and Hedin, L.O. (2022) Biome boundary maintained by intense below-ground resource competition in world's thinnest-rooted plant community. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2117514119

Leonard, J; West A.G., van Blerk, J.J and Ojeda, F (2021) Does drought limit resprouter recruitment in Erica? A test using seeder and resprouter seedlings of Erica coccinea. Australian Journal of Botany. DOI: 10.1071/BT21015

Teodoro, GS; de Britto Costa P, Brum M, Signori-Müller C, Alcantara S, E. Dawson T, G. West A.G., Lambers H, S. Oliveira R (2021) Desiccation tolerance implies costs to productivity but allows survival under extreme drought conditions in Velloziaceae species in campos rupestres. Environ Exp Bot:104556. DOI: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2021.104556

van Blerk, Justin J.West, Adam G.Altwegg, ResHoffman, M. Timm (2021) Post-fire summer rainfall differentially affects reseeder and resprouter population recovery in fire-prone shrublands of South Africa Science of the Total Environment. DOI:10.1016/J.SCITOTENV.2021.147699

van Blerk, Justin J.West, Adam G.Altwegg, ResHoffman, M. Timm (2021) Does a trade-off between growth plasticity and resource conservatism mediate post-fire shrubland responses to rainfall seasonality?New Phytologist. DOI: 10.1111/NPH.17246

de Wet, Ruan, F., West, Adam G. and Harris, Chris (2020) Seasonal variation in tap water delta H-2 and delta O-18 reveals two tap water worlds. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/S41598-020-70317-2

Midgley, J.J., West, A.G. and Cramer, M.D. (2019) Female and male costs of reproduction must be equal in dioecious Cape plant genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae). Australian Journal of Botany 67(7):517-520. DOI: 10.1071/BT18170

Roddy, A.B., van Blerk, J.J., Midgley, J.J. and West, A.G. (2019) Ramification has little impact on shoot hydraulic efficiency in the sexually dimorphic genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae) PeerJ 7:e6835

van Mazijk, R., Symth, L.K., Weideman, E.A. and West, A.G. (2018) Isotopic tracing of stormwater in the urban Liesbeek River. WaterSA 44(4): 674-679.DOI: 10.4314/wsa.v44i4.16

Leonard, J.M., West, A.G., Ojeda, F(2018) Differences in germination response to smoke and temperature cues in 'pyrophyte' and 'pyrofuge' forms of Erica coccinea (Ericaceae). International Journal of Wildland Fire. DOI: 10.1071/WF17161

Nackley, L., Betzelberger, A., Skowno, A.L., West, A.G., Ripley, B.S., Bond, W.J. and Midgley, G.F.(2018) CO2 enrichment does not entirely ameliorate Vachellia karoo drought inhibition: A missing mechanism explaining savanna bush encroachment. Environmental and Experimental Botany. 155: 98-106 DOI: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2018.06.018

Nackley, L., West, A.G., Skowno, A.L. and Bond, W.J. (2018) Questioning the alienation of native species from invasion ecology: a reply to Tong et al. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2018.02.001

Lewis, Matthew C., West, A.G. and O'Riain, M.J. (2018) Isotopic assessment of marine food consumption by natural-foraging charm baboons on the Cape Peninsula. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI:10.1002/ajpa.23332

Nackley, L., West, A.G., Skowno, A.L. and Bond, W.J. (2017) The nebulous ecology of native invasionsTrends in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2017.08.003  

van Blerk, J.J., West, A.G. and Midgley, J.J. (2017) Restio culm felling is a consequence of pre-dispersal seed predation by the rodent Rhabdomys pumilio in the FynbosSouth African Journal of Botany. DOI:10.1016/j.sajb.2017.05.017

Hermann, N., Boom, A., Carr, A.S., Chase, B.M., West, A.G., Zabel, M., Schefuß, E. (2017) Hydrogen isotope fractionation of leaf wax n-alkanes in southern African soils. Organic Geochemistry. DOI: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2017.03.008. 

Ah-Peng, C., Cardoso, A.W., Flores, O., West, A.G., Wilding, N., Strasberg, D., Hedderson, T.A.J. (2017) The role of epiphytic bryophytes in interception, storage, and the regulated release of atmospheric moisture in a tropical montane cloud forest. Journal of Hydrology 548: 665-673. DOI: 10.1016/j.hydrol.2017.03.043


Skowno, A.L., Thompson, M.W., Hiestermann, J., Ripley, B., West, A.G., Bond, W.J. (2017) Woodland expansion in South African grassy biomes based on satellite observations (1990-2013): general patterns and potential drivers. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13529

West, A.G., Nel, J.A., Bond, W.J. and Midgley, J.J. (2016) Experimental evidence for heat plume-induced cavitation and xylem deformation as a mechanism of rapid post-fire tree mortalityNew PhytologistDOI: 10.1111/nph.13979

Karpul, R.H. and West, A.G. (2016) Wind drives nocturnal, but not diurnal, transpiration in Leucospermum conocarpodendron trees: implications for stilling on the Cape Peninsula. Tree PhysiologyDOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpw033

Skelton, R.P., West, A.G., Dawson, T.E. (2015) Predicting plant vulnerability to drought in biodiverse regions using functional traits. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1503376112

Retief, K., West, A.G. and Pfab, M. (2015) Are you involved in the illegal cycad trade? Veld and Flora 101:13-15. 

Retief, K., Pfab, M. and West, A.G. (2015) Could forensic tracers help save our wild cycads? Encephalartos 119:12-15. 

Zeppel, M. J. B., Harrison, S. P., Adams, H. D., Kelley, D. I., Li, G., Tissue, D. T., Dawson, T. E., Fensham, R., Medlyn, B. E., Palmer, A., West, A. G. and McDowell, N. G. (2014) Drought and resprouting plants. New Phytologist. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13205

Altwegg, R., West, A.G., Gillson, L. and Midgley, G.F. (2014) Impacts of climate change in the Greater Cape Floristic Region. In Fynbos: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of a Megadiverse Region. Eds: N. Allsopp, J. F. colville, and G. A. Verboom. Oxford University Press. PDF available on request. 

Cramer, M.D., West, A.G., Power, S.C., Skelton, R.P. and Stock, W.D. (2014) Plant ecophysiological diversity. In Fynbos: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of a Megadiverse Region. Eds: N. Allsopp, J. F. colville, and G. A. Verboom. Oxford University Press. PDF available on request. 

Retief, K., West, A.G. and Pfab, M. (2014) Can stable isotopes and radiocarbon dating provide a forensic solution for curbing illegal harvesting of threatened cycads? Journal of Forensic Sciences. DOI: 10.111/1556-4029.12644

 West, A.G., February, E.C. and Bowen, G.J. (2014) Spatial analysis of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes ("isoscapes") in ground water and tap water across South AfricaJournal of Geochemical Exploration. DOI:  10.1016/j.gexplo.2014.06.009  PDF DOWNLOAD

Skelton, R., West, A.G., Dawson, T.E., Leonard, J. (2013) External heat-pulse method allows comparative sapflow in diverse functional types in a Mediterranean-type shrubland in South Africa. Functional Plant Biology

West, A.G., Midgley, G.F. and Bond, W.B. (2012) The reforestation of Africa? South African Journal of Science. 108(11/12) Art. #1448,

West, A.G., Dawson, T.E., February, E.C., Midgley, G.F., Bond, W.B., Aston, T.L. (2012) Diverse functional responses to drought in a Mediterranean-type shrubland in South Africa. New Phytologist. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2012.04170.x

West, A.G., Goldsmith, G., Matimati, I., Dawson, T.E. (2011) Spectral analysis software improves confidence in plant and soil water stable isotope analyses performed by isotope ratio infrared spectroscopy (IRIS). Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 25: 2268-2274.

Godard-Codding C.A., Clark R., Fossi M.C., Marsili L., Maltese S., West A.G., et al. (2011) Pacific Ocean-wide profile of CYP1A1 expression, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios and organic contaminant burden in sperm whale skin biopsies. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901809

West, A.G., Goldsmith, G., Brooks, P.D., Dawson, T.E. (2010) Discrepancies between isotope ratio infrared spectroscopy and isotope ratio mass spectrometry for the stable isotope analysis of plant and soil waters. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 24:1948-1945 

Yates, C.J., Elith, J., Latimer, A.M., Le Maitre, D., Midgley, G.F., Schurr, F.M., West, A.G. (2010) Projecting climate change impacts on species distributions in megadiverse South African Cape and Southwest Australian Floristic Regions: Opportunities and challenges. Austral Ecology. 35: 374-391 

Hawkins, H-J., Hettash, H., West, A.G., Cramer, M.D. (2009) Hydraulic redistribution by Protea ‘Sylvia’ (Proteaceae) facilitates soil water recharge and water acquisition by an understorey grass and shrub. Functional Plant Biology 36: 752-760. 

Hoffman M.T., Carrick P.C., Gillson L. and West A.G. (2009) Drought, climate change and vegetation response in the succulent karoo. South African Journal of Science 105: 54-60. 

West A.G., Hultine K.R., Sperry J.S. and Ehleringer J.R. (2008) Transpiration and hydraulic strategies in a pinon-juniper woodland. Ecological Applications 18: 911-927. 

Hultine K.R., Bush S.E., West A.G., Burtch K.G., Pataki D.E. and Ehleringer J.R. (2008). Gender-specific patterns of aboveground allocation, canopy conductance and water use in a dominant riparian tree species: Acer negundo. Tree Physiology 28, 1383-1394 

McDowell N., Pockman W.T., Allen C.D., Breshears D.D., Cobb N., Kolb T., Plaut J., Sperry J., West A.G., Williams D.G. and Yepez E.A. (2008). Mechanisms of plant survival and mortality during drought: why do some plants survive while others succumb to drought? New Phytologist. Tansley Review. 178, 719-739. 

Ehleringer J.R., Bowen G.J., Chesson L.A., West A.G., Podlesak D.W. and Cerling T.E. (2008). Hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios in human hair are related to geography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105, 2788-2793.

Bush, S.E., Pataki, D.E., Hultine, K.R., West, A.G., Sperry, J.S., Ehleringer, J.R.. (2008) Wood anatomy constrains stomatal responses to atmospheric vapor pressure deficit in irrigated, urban trees. Oecologia 156: 13-20. 

West, A.G., Hultine, K.R., Jackson, T.L., Ehleringer, J.R. (2007) Differential summer moisture use of Pinus edulis and Juniperus osteosperma reflects contrasting hydraulic patterns. Tree Physiology. 27: 1711-1720. 

West A.G., Hultine K.R., Burtch K.G., Ehleringer J.R. (2007) Seasonal variations in moisture use in a piñon-juniper woodland. Oecologia. 153: 787-798. 

Hultine K.R., Bush S.E., West, A.G. and Ehleringer J.R. (2007) Population structure, physiology and ecohydrological impacts of dioecious riparian tree species of western North America. Oecologia. 154: 85-93. 

Hultine, K.R., Bush, S.E., West, A.G., Ehleringer, J.R. (2007) The effect of gender on sap flux-scaled transpiration in a dominant riparian tree species: box elder (Acer negundo). JGR Biogeosciences. 112: G03S06. doi:10.1029/2006JG000232 

February, E.C., West, A.G., Newton, R. (2007) The relationship between rainfall, water source and growth for an endangered tree. Austral Ecology. 32: 397-402. 

Cerling, T.E., Ayliffe, L.K., Dearing, M.D., Ehleringer, J.R., Passey, B.H., Podlesak, D.W., Torregrossa, A and West, A.G.. (2007) The reaction progress variable in stable isotope studies of biological tissue turnover. Oecologia 151, 175-189. 

February, E.C., Higgins, S.I., Newton, R. and West, A.G. (2007) Tree distribution on a steep environmental gradient in an arid savanna. Journal of Biogeography 34, 270–278. 

West, A.G., Patrickson, S.J. and Ehleringer, J.R. (2006) Water extraction times for plant and soil materials used in stable isotope analysis. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 20: 1317-1321. 

West A.G., Ayliffe, L.K., Cerling, T.E., Robinson, T.F., Karren, B., Dearing, M.D. and Ehleringer, J.R. (2004) Short-term diet changes revealed using stable carbon isotopes in horse tail-hair. Functional Ecology. 18:616-624. 

Ayliffe, L.K., Cerling T.E., Robinson, T., West, A., Sponheimer, M., Passey, B., Hammer, J., Roeder, B, Dearing, M.D, Ehleringer, J.R. (2004) Turnover of carbon isotopes in tail hair and breath CO2 of horses fed an isotopically varied diet. Oecologia 139:11-12. 

Baugh, A.T., West, A.G., Rickart, E.A, Cerling, T.E., Ehleringer, J.R. and Dearing, M.D. (2004) Stable isotope ratios (d15N and d13C) of syntopic shrews (Sorex). The Southwestern Naturalist. 49(4):493-500. 

Sponheimer M, Robinson T, Ayliffe L, Roeder B, Hammer J, Passey B, West A., Cerling T, Dearing D, Ehleringer J. (2003) Nitrogen isotopes in mammalian herbivores: Hair delta N-15 values from a controlled feeding study. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 13 (1-2): 80-87.

West A.G., Midgley J.J. and Bond W.J. (2001) The evaluation of d13C isotopes of trees to determine past regeneration environments. Forest Ecology and Management 147: 139-149. 

West A.G., Bond W.J. and Midgley J.J. (2000) Soil carbon isotopes reveal ancient grassland under forest in Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal. South African Journal of Science 96: 252-254. 

West A.G., Midgley J.J. and Bond W.J. (2000) Regeneration failure and the potential importance of human disturbance in a sub-tropical forest. Applied Vegetation Science 3: 223-232. 

West A.G., Midgley J.J. and Bond W.J. (2000) Hunting for human historical impacts in forest ecosystems: patterns and processes. In: A, Seydack, W. Vermeulen & C. Vermeulen (eds). Towards sustainable management based on scientific understanding of natural forests and woodlands. Dept. of Water Affairs and Forestry. Knysna, South Africa. pp. 59-64.

West A.G., Bond W.J. and Midgley J.J. (2000) Dune forest succession on old lands: implications for post-mining restoration. In: A, Seydack, W. Vermeulen & C. Vermeulen (eds). Towards sustainable management based on scientific understanding of natural forests and woodlands. Dept. of Water Affairs and Forestry. Knysna, South Africa. pp. 35-39.


Make a free website with Yola