Botany Honours:

Ecology, Evolution & Global Change

Plants form the basis for all life on earth, but the conditions for plant growth are rapidly changing due to climate change, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations, biological invasions and land transformation. The last decades have seen widespread vegetation change, including woody encroachment of savannas and ecosystem shifts caused by invasive species. Climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 also alter plant-animal interactions and their outcomes, including plant-pollinator relationships and the susceptibility of invasive plants to biological control. The study of the ecology and evolution of plants has never been more crucial to understanding the impacts of global change on our planet’s life support system and food security.

The Honours course offered by the Department of Botany offers students the opportunity to specialise in the broad areas of ecology, evolution and global change. Through four selected coursework modules, students will develop their understanding of fundamental plant ecology, ecophysiology and evolution, as well as their applications to climate change, bush encroachment, plant invasions, biological control, and evolutionary responses to altered environments. The theory modules link closely to the research programmes of academic staff in the department, and thus to future research opportunities.

Aside from the theory modules, the Honours programme includes field and laboratory work, practical exercises, discussions, seminars, essays and a research project. The year begins with an introductory course, a fieldtrip and a statistics course. Students then take four theory modules, produce a review paper and seminar on a topic of their choice and carry out an independent research project. This is presented as a project report and a final project seminar at the end of the year. Students may in addition take a one-week GIS course offered in the Department of Geography. The emphasis of the Honours programme is on building strong, transferable research and communication skills that equip students for a variety of careers or postgraduate study in South Africa or internationally.

Theory module options available in 2019

  • Climate Change and Stress Physiology (Brad Ripley)
  • Invasion Biology (Julie Coetzee)
  • Pollination Biology (Craig Peter)
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution (Tracey Nowell)
  • Savanna Ecology (Susi Vetter)
  • Rehabilitation and Disturbance Ecology (Roy Lubke)

Research projects

The core of the Honours programme is an independent research project, which provides an opportunity for students to learn a multitude of research skills. Each project is carried out under the supervision of a staff member from the Department, and topics are usually linked to staff research projects and interests.

Projects will be available on a variety of exciting topics, including but not limited to:

  • Invasion ecology and biological control of aquatic invasive plants
  • Plant responses to climate change and elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations (in the new elevated CO2 research facility)
  • Causes of bush encroachment and its feedbacks on herbivores and/or fire
  • Phylogeography and the evolution of the Cape and Thicket floras
  • Pollination ecology, including of threatened and invasive plant species
  • Pollinator-driven speciation


A Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Botany (or related biological disciplines such as ecology, physiology or grassland science where BSc degree structures do not include Botany per se) with a minimum of 65%.

Application process

Applicants who meet the above criteria should submit the completed application form (available on-line at along with all the other required documentation, including academic transcripts and degree certificates before 1 November 2019.

Course content and workload

This is a full-time Honours course which starts in early February. Modules and projects are completed by the end of October and examinations are written in June and November. The course commences with a one-week introductory course, a field trip and a statistics course. In addition students take theory modules, produce a review paper and seminar on a conservation-related topic of their choice and carry out independent research project/s.

Bursaries and funding

There are some bursaries available for full-time Honours students at Rhodes University. Information can be found at Applicants who have been offered a place and who need funding may also contact the Head of the Botany Department ( for assistance. Some of the Honours projects that are offered may be associated with bursaries funded through the departments or project supervisors. Information on these will be made available at the beginning of the Honours year. 

Part-time Honours

People who are employed and unable to register full-time for the year may apply to do the Honours course part-time over two years. It is, however, important to note that part-time students must be able to spend a total of 4-5 months each year in Grahamstown, which includes modules, courses and project work. Students must be present for the June and November examinations each year. As the coursework involves discussions, seminars and practical components, students need to be in Grahamstown during the modules. It is not possible to take modules long-distance. 

For more information

For information on the course, please contact the Honours Coordinator, Professor Susi Vetter ( 

Last Modified: Mon, 15 Jul 2019 16:32:25 SAST