MSc (Wits) PhD (UCT)
Following my PhD on grass systematics, I spent almost a year as a post-doc at the University of the Western Cape, where I endeavoured to develop and apply molecular techniques to coralline red algae in collaboration with Derek Keats. Following that, I spent 8 months in Sydney, Australia, as a Research Fellow of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. There I worked with Dr Peter Weston in creating a family level phylogeny of the Gondwanan plant family Proteaceae. I was appointed as a lecturer at Rhodes in 1997, initially on contract, but shortly thereafter as a permanent staff member. In 1999 I received the prestigious NRF “Presidents award” (or P) rating. I was then able to consolidate my current research career, and grow links and collaborations with local and international scientists
Having initiated and developed a career in plant systematics, initially focussing on grasses, my research interests have slowly broadened such that today I consider myself to be a biodiversity scientist, with wide-ranging interests. These interests are based mainly around the application of DNA techniques (mainly DNA sequencing) to resolving the evolutionary and biogeographic history of plants and animals of southern Africa, but I am also keenly aware of the need for baseline data gathering, and have initiated a range of floristic and faunistic surveys.
My research, mainly funded via the NRF South African Biosystematics Initiative (SABI), currently has three discrete dimensions, each of which fall under the umbrella of his research group, the Molecular Ecology and Systematics Group - MESG).
The first of these is a long-standing collaboration with Prof. Christopher McQuaid (Rhodes department of Zoology and Entomology) on the genetic diversity of coastal and estuarine invertebrates. This work has resulted in one completed (G. Zardi) and two ongoing PhD’s (K. Mmonwa and T. Matumba), two MSc’s (S. Bownes and K. Mmonwa), and the involvement of two post-doctoral researchers; Dr Peter Teske and Dr Isabelle Papadopoulos. Study groups include mussels (both indigenous and invasive), crabs, limpets, snails, sea squirts, mud and sand prawns and other small invertebrate taxa. Fifteen papers have resulted from this collaboration (see publication list below).
The second and third areas of interest are also regional, rather than taxonomic. I recently launched a new research programme on the flora and fauna of the southern regions of the Great Escarpment of South Africa. This multidisciplinary, collaborative programme includes other biodiversity specialists such as Prof. Martin Villet (Rhodes Department of Zoology & Entomology), Dr Mark Robertson (University of Pretoria, Department of Zoology) and Dr Dai Herbert (Natal Museum). So far, this research programme has seen the completion of one PhD (V. Clark) and two MSc’s (J. Fearon and A. Kok), with one PhD (J. Midgely) and two MSc’s (G. Keevey and D. Morris) that are ongoing, as well as a post-doctoral researcher, Dr Chris Kelly. This research has developed into what I call the “Great Escarpment Biodiversity Programme” (GEBP), and includes plant and animal systematic and phylogeographic studies, as well as inventorying exercises. This work, initially focussing on the Sneeuberg, Nuweveldberge and Roggeveld mountains, has resulted in numerous new species of plants and insects discovered, and new and interesting records of range extensions of species previously known from other areas. In addition, genetic studies on species such as butterflies, rodents, snakes and snails have provided an insight into the biotic connections and past history and connections across these mountains.
The newest research direction is a newly funded and established programme on the genetic diversity of forest-dwelling taxa, both plant and animal. This programme currently includes one MSc student (GH. Keevey), and includes collaborators in the form of Prof. Martin Villet (Rhodes Department of Zoology & Entomology), Dr Dai Herbert (Natal Museum) and Dr Krystal Tolley (SANBI, Kirstenbosch).
Over and above these activities, I have maintained a strong interest in plant systematics, with ongoing research and collaborations on the systematics and phylogenetics of selected plant groups, including the Proteaceae, Asteraceae and Poaceae (grasses).