School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Dr Morries Chauke with his mother, Mrs N’wa-July Elizabeth Chauke.

Statistics PhD Models Forest Growth at Mondi

Any student would agree that a doctoral degree is the pinnacle of academic achievement and that obtaining one is no mean feat.

Behind every PhD lies unwavering dedication and tireless research, which PhD graduate Dr Morries Chauke displayed.

Chauke began his journey at UKZN as an undergraduate student and appreciated the Institution’s academic standards and inclusive philosophy. As he progressed in his studies in Statistics his admiration for the University grew.

‘First-hand experiences strengthened my respect for UKZN,’ said Chauke. ‘In considering a PhD, it seamlessly matched my academic ambitions.’

Chauke is employed as a Growth and Yield Research Specialist at Mondi, so it was logical for his research to focus on forest productivity, an essential element of forest management and timber yield predictions.

He explained that the “site index”, which is based on tree height at a set age, estimates forest productivity and thus guides forest management and timber yield predictions. Rainfall, however, which is a critical factor impacting tree growth, is often overlooked. ‘Inadequate variables can lead to incorrect forest management practices, which can in turn have far-reaching implications for finance, ecology and forest health.’

His research sought to bridge this gap by incorporating rainfall data into the prediction models and thus offer a more accurate tool to predict forest productivity, influencing timber yields, financial decisions and resource allocations.

Chauke’s findings set a precedent for incorporating nuanced environmental factors into forest management tools, paving the way for more informed and sustainable forestry practices. This is especially important for regions with variable rainfall.

His passion for sustainable resource management and data-driven decision-making motivated him to conduct research in this field. ‘I recognised the potential to improve prediction models’ accuracy and wanted to contribute to better-informed economic decisions in forestry.’

His immediate plan for the future is celebrating his achievement! Thereafter, he intends to explore additional factors that influence forest growth and extend his research to incorporate other variables into prediction models.

Chauke thanked his supervisor Professor Henry Mwambi for guiding his research and providing essential insights and expressed his appreciation to his family and peers for their support. He also conveyed his gratitude to Mondi for funding his PhD and providing access to valuable data.

A keen soccer player and cook, Chauke is eager to return to the playing field and continue his culinary adventures now that his PhD chapter has closed.

He advised aspirant PhD scholars as follows: ‘Begin by introspecting: Why do I want to pursue a PhD? If your motivation does not stem from a genuine passion for research, it is crucial to nurture that passion. The PhD journey can feel isolating at times; even amidst the support of friends and family, so intrinsic passion provides the extra momentum you will need.’

Words: Cikizwa Gwambe

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini