Department Photo 2017


Head of Department

Craig Peter - Associate Professor

Academic Staff

Brad Ripley - Professor

Susi Vetter - Associate Professor

Julie Coetzee - Associate Professor

Tracey Nowell - Lecturer

Tiffany Pillay - Lecturer

Tony Dold - Curator, Selmar Schonland Herbarium

Ted Botha - Professor Emeritus

Roy Lubke - Associate Professor Emeritus

Support Staff

Busi Goba - Office administrator

Riaan Strauss - Principle technical officer

Barry Hartley - Senior technical officer

Khabele Moerane - Laboratory assistant

Phillip Ngxitho - Laboratory assistant


Craig Peter - Associate Professor & Head of Department

CraigMSc (Rhodes), PhD (UKZN)

Craig is interested in a broad range of ecological and evolutionary questions associated with plant pollination biology. His primary interest in the interactions between orchids and their pollinators. He is also interested in floral mimicry and deception in non-rewarding orchids, as well as the floral and reproductive biology of the Asclepiadoideae.

Craig teaches courses on plant reproduction, pollination biology, introductory and advanced evolutionary biology, pollination services and the evolution of deception. More details of Craig's research and teaching interests can be found here.

Some recent publications include:

Peter CI and Johnson SD (2014).  A pollinator shift explains floral divergence in an orchid species complex in South Africa.  Annals of Botany (pollinator driven speciation special issue) 113(2):277-288.

Duffy KJ, Johnson SD and Peter CI (2014) A temporal dimension to the influence of pollen rewards on bee behaviour and fecundity in Aloe tenuior. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94908.

Peter CI and Shuttleworth A (2014). Catching on to concatenation: Evidence for pre-pollination intra-sexual selection in plants.  New Phytologist 203(1):4-6.


Brad Ripley - Professor

MSc (Natal), PhD (Rhodes)

Brad is a plant ecophysiologist, specialising in the ecophysiology and ecology of C3 and C4 grasses and their response to factors associated with climate change. Other interests include the adaptations of coastal sand-dune plants and the responses of alien invasive plants to environmental and biotic factors.

My teaching focuses on understanding plant responses to the environment including the evolution and function of plant photosynthetic adaptations, metabolism and its regulation, and the response of plants to light, water and temperature stress. More details of Brad's research and teaching interests can be found here.

Some of his recent publications include:

Ripley BS, Cunniff J and Osborne CP (2013). Photosynthetic acclimation and resource-use by the C3 and C4 subspecies of Alloteropsis semialata in low CO2 atmospheres. Global change Biology 19: 900-910.

Taylor SH, Ripley BS, Woodward FI, and Osborne CP (2011). Drought limitation of photosynthesis differs between C3 and C4 grass species in a comparative experiment. Plant, Cell and Environment 34: 65-75.

Ripley BS, Donald G, Osborne CP, Abraham T and Martin T (2010). Experimental investigation of fire ecology in the C3 and C4 subspecies of Alloteropsis semialata. Journal of Ecology 98: 1196-1203.


Susi Vetter - Associate Professor

BSc Hons., PhD (UCT)

Susi's research interests include rangeland ecology, vegetation ecology and the social and cultural aspects of resource management and biodiversity conservation. Recent research projects include: Does holistic grazing work in the grasslands? (Read Meat Development SA / CapeWool funded), Understanding people’s valuation of landscapes, vegetation types and vegetation condition in relation to use value, biodiversity and aesthetic qualities (SANPAD funded) and Bush encroachment: processes and feedbacks (NRF funded).

At undergraduate and Honours level, Susi teaches a range of theoretical and applied ecological topics, including the biomes of South Africa, plant-herbivore interactions, plant life histories, competition and coexistence in plant communities, savanna ecology and ecological tools. More details of Susi's research and teaching interests can be found here.

Some of Susi's recent publications include:

Cocks ML, Alexander J, Mogano LL and Vetter S. (in press) Ways of belonging: Meanings of “nature” among Xhosa-speaking township residents in South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology.

Hempson G, Illius AW, Hendricks HH, Bond WJ, Vetter S. (2015) Herbivore population regulation and resource heterogeneity in a stochastic environment. Ecology 96: 2170–2180.

Vetter S. (2013) Development and sustainable management of rangeland commons – aligning policy with the realities of South Africa’s rural landscape. African Journal of Range & Forage Science 30: 1-9.

Julie Coetzee - Associate Professor

PhD (Wits)

Julie Coetzee
Julie’s primary interest is plant-insect interactions, in the applied context of biological control of invasive species. She works on both floating and submerged aquatic weeds, and currently focuses on regime shift and resilience aspects of the invasion ecology of this suite of plants. Other interests include insect physiology, species distribution modelling, aquatic plant ecology and biostatistics.  Further information about her research can be found here.  

Tracey L. Nowell – Lecturer

BSc Hons (Reading, UK), MSc (Birmingham, UK), PhD (UCT)

Research interests:Dr Tracey Nowell

Tracey’s research interests centre around understanding the spatial and temporal dynamics of evolution in plants. Phylogeny reconstruction forms a major part of her approach and is the starting point for examining variation within and between species, not only in terms of genetics but also their morphology, distributions and ecology.  Tracey works across a range of taxonomic levels, from populations to species and beyond, and uses an array of molecular techniques and analytical approaches.

Much of her work has been on diversification in the southern African members of Crassulaceae: Cotyledon, Tylecodon and Adromischus, with ongoing research focussing in on Cotyledon orbiculata – a widespread and highly variable species complex that presents a host of research questions around  pollinator-mediated differentiation, contrasting geographic isolation vs. sympatry, together with niche specialisation.

Tracey teaches courses on plant systematics and biogeography.

Some recent publications

Mort ME, O’Leary TR, Carillo-Reyes P, Nowell TL, Archibald JK & Randle CP 2010. Phylogeny and Evolution of Crassulaceae: past, present, and future. Schumannia; 6: 69-86.

Verboom GA, Archibald JK, Bakker FT, Bellstedt DU, Conrad F, Dreyer LL, Forest F, Galley C, Goldblatt P, Henning JK, Mummenhoff K, Linder HP, Muasya AM, Oberlander KC, Savolainen V, Snijman DA, van der Niet T & Nowell TL* 2009. Origin and diversification of the Greater Cape flora: Ancient species repository, hot-bed of recent radiation, or both? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 44-53 (*joint first author).

Trinder-Smith TH, Linder HP, Verboom GA, van der Niet T & Nowell TL 2007. Plastid DNA sequences reveal generic paraphyly within Diosmeae (Rutoideae, Rutaceae). Systematic Botany 32(4): 847-855.


Tiffany Pillay - Lecturer

BSc. Hons., PhD (UKZN.)

Tiffany's research interests focus on savanna ecology and management. She is particularly interested in climate change effects in savannas, restoration ecology, invasive species and woody plant encroachment. Her PhD research investigated the mechanisms that drive woody plant encroachment and the biogeochemical consequences of encroachment on soil organic carbon across a precipitation gradient in South Africa.

Some recent publications include:

Mureva A, Ward D, Pillay T, Chivenge P, & Cramer M (2018). Soil organic carbon increases in semi-arid regions while it decreases in humid regions due to woody-plant encroachment of grasslands in South Africa. Scientific Reports. 19;8(1):15506

Pillay T & Ward D (2013). Competitive effect and response of savanna tree seedlings: Comparison of survival, growth and associated functional traits. Journal of Vegetation Science 25: 226–234

Pillay T & Ward D (2012). Spatial pattern analysis and competition between Acacia karroo trees in humid savannas. Plant Ecology 213: 1609-1619. 


Tony Dold - Curator: Selmar Schonland Herbarium (GRA)

MSc (Rhodes)

Tony is the curator of the Selmar Schonland Herbarium (GRA), Grahamstown. He is a taxonomist with a specific interest in Asclepiadceae (Milkweeds) and Hyacinthaceae. He is currently collaborating towards a revision of the genus Albuca. He is also interested in biocultural diversity studies and together with Dr Michelle Cocks at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) runs Inkcubeko Nendalo, a community engagement programme (http://www.bioculturaldiversity.co.za).

Tony teaches a module on plant inventory techniques.

Some recents publications include:

Martínez-Azorín M, Crespo MB, Dold AP, Pinter M, & Wetschnig W (2015). New combinations and lectotype designations in Asparagaceae subfam. Scilloideae. Phytotaxa 201 (2): 165–171.

Martínez-Azorín M, Crespo MB, Dold AP, Pinter M & Wetschnig W (2015). Stellarioides exigua (Asparagaceae, Scilloideae), a new species from South Africa. Phytotaxa 204 (2): 137–146.

Martínez-Azorín M, Dold AP, Pinter M, Slade JM, Crespo MB, Milkuhn G & Wetschnig W (2015). Massonia obermeyerae (Asparagaceae, Scilloideae), a new species from South Africa. Phytotaxa 205 (1): 39–50

Roy Lubke - Associate Professor Emeritus

MSc (Science Education, Keele), PhD (Western Ontario)

Roy has been involved with the study and research of coastal dune systems in the Eastern Cape over the last 35 years, specialising in stabilisation and rehabilitation of dune systems. He has also worked in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, Namibia, Mozambique, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi and Angola. He has had extensive experience in general environmental projects and thus has a fuller understanding of South African coastal systems. He has specialist interests in dune and coastal ecology, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) and management, and rehabilitation ecology.

Roy teaches courses on Environmental Management and Restoration Ecology on a part time basis.

Some his recent publications include:

van Eeden JD, Lubke RA and Haarhoff P (2007). Return of natural, social and financial capital to the hole left by mining. In: Aronson J, Milton SJ and Blignaut JN (eds.) Restoring natural capital: science, business and practice. Island Press, Washington. pp. 198 – 207.

Lubke RA (2004). Vegetation dynamics and succession on sand dunes of the eastern coasts of Africa In: Martinez ML and Psuty NP (Eds.) Coastal dunes: Ecology and conservation. Ecological Studies: vol. 171. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Lubke, RA and Hertling, UM (2001). The role of European marram grass in dune stabilization and succession near Cape Agulhas, South Africa. Journal of Coastal Conservation 7: 171-182.


AJ Strauss - Senior Technical Officer

MSc & PhD (NWU)

Riaan oversees teaching/undergraduate laboratory management. Maintenance and management of research facilities. Management of chemical and equipment stores. Field trip preparation.

Riaan is also a plant stress physiologist, with experience in assessing the effect of environmental factors such as air pollutants, chilling stress, drought stress etc on growth, metabolism and yield of various relevant crop species, both under controlled and field conditions.

Some of his recent publications include:

Venter A, Du Plessis S, Van Heerden PDR, Strauss AJ and Bezuidenhout, J (2009) Photosynthetic differences between Microcystis aeruginosa and Oscillatoria simplicissima in relation to species succession in the Vaal River, South Africa. African Journal of Aquatic Science 34(2)

Van Heerden PDR, Kiddle G, Pellny, Mokwala PW, Jordaan A, Strauss AJ, De Beer M, Schlüter U, Kunert K and Foyer CH (2008) Roles for the regulation of respiration and the oxygen diffusion barrier in soybean in the protection of symbiotic nitrogen fixation from chilling-induced inhibition and shoots from premature senescence. Plant Physiology 148: 1-13.

Strauss AJ, Krüger GHJ, Strasser RJ, and Van Heerden PDR (2007) The role of low soil temperature in the inhibition of growth and PSII function during dark chilling in soybean genotypes of contrasting tolerance. Physiologia Plantarum 131: 89-105

Last Modified: Wed, 08 Jan 2020 14:10:20 SAST