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Rhodes research group wins NSTF Award

Date Released: Wed, 15 July 2015 12:30 +0200

Professor Martin Hill and his research team, the Biological Control Research Group (BCRG) won the NSTF-GreenMatter Award for 2014/15. The national awards celebrate outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa. The BCRG were recognised at the 17th annual National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards.

This award goes to an individual or an organisation who are striving to achieve biodiversity conservation, environmental sustainability and a Greener Economy.

The BCRG under the leadership of Prof. Hill, are at the forefront of biological control of aquatic weeds worldwide. Prof. Hill is widely regarded as Africa’s foremost authority on the biological control of invasive aquatic weeds.  His body of work continues to make influential contributions to the discipline both in South Africa and globally, notably to improving the safety and effectiveness of biocontrol and ensuring water security.

The primary goal of their research is a reduction in the impact of aquatic weeds in freshwater ecosystems, in South Africa and further north into Africa, through the release of host-specific damaging biological control agents.

“Our research group has been able to show the impact that invasive aquatic alien plants have had on biodiversity in South Africa and the benefit that biological control using host-specific biological control agents have made to that. We’ve shown that post-release of biological control agents, native biodiversity can recover,” explains Prof. Hill.

Invasive aquatic weeds severely limit and impact water resources in South Africa, both economically and ecologically. Water hyacinth, the world’s worst aquatic weed, reduces aquatic biodiversity, compromising the integrity of freshwater systems. The BCRG has employed biological control through the release of host specific insects which reduce these infestations to manageable levels, ensuring the return of indigenous aquatic biodiversity.

According to Prof. Hill, “We do good fundamental science, on applied systems, and we implement it. The way that we have been able to implement it is through employing people from the most marginalised of society, that being people working with disabilities and then the benefit has been to South Africa as a whole, because we are improving the quantity and quality of fresh water.”

The biological control of aquatic weeds using host-specific, damaging natural enemies is a particularly appealing solution because it is not toxic, pathogenic or dangerous to humans, and also has the advantage of being self- perpetuating once established and does not harm non-target organisms found in the environment.

Photo: Dr Julie Coetzee and Professor Martin Hill at the NSTF Awards which took place on the 9th of July.

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