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Bursary awardees for 2019

We would like to congratulate our bursary awardees of 2019. We have one Masters bursary awardee and three Honours bursary awardees:

Lara Wootton- Masters bursary

Laura Milne- Honours bursary

Annerine Venter- Honours bursary

Marcell Slabbert- Honours bursary

Their study topics in more detail:

Lara Wootton

The prevailing explanation for the high species richness of the Cape Floristic Region is that strong topographic and edaphic gradients promote population differentiation, and eventually ecological speciation. However, there has been a recent interest in the importance of neutral processes in driving speciation. In particular, it is thought that at high elevations, isolation and genetic drift may be the leading cause of speciation. My MSc dissertation will test these ideas by creating a phylogeny of a Cape grass genus, Ehrharta Thunb., and comparing the rates of evolution in noncoding vs coding regions of the genome for both high and low elevation lineages.

Laura Milne

Tree seedlings encroaching into open grassy areas must possess traits that contribute to their establishment success. Fire has been identified as a major factor limiting recruitment in savanna woody species. Thick bark and large stem diameter are known to protect mature plants from heat effects by acting as a heat sink but little research has evaluated these traits at seedling stage. We aim to compare bark thickness in fire tolerant savanna tree seedlings with fire intolerant forest seedlings by using stem sections to determine where resources for early growth are allocated. Furthermore, while savanna trees may be able to resprout after fires, resprouting ability declines with maturity which implies seedlings should have the greatest resprouting potential. We aim to investigate the bud bank distribution of the tree seedling types to determine the type of resprouting strategy (epicormic versus basal) most frequently used in savanna and forest species.

Annerine Venter

For my Honours project, I will be focusing on megafaunal seed dispersal. South Africa is one of the few countries that still possess five extant megafauna genera and thus a unique opportunity exists to study megafauna seed dispersal. Some research has already been done with regards to which Southern African trees are thought to be megafauna dispersed according to their fruit structure. I intend to determine if these trees are exclusively dispersed by megafauna, or if other organisms can also stand in as viable seed dispersers in the absence of megafauna. This research will consequently have important implications for the conservation of megafauna and their associated tree species, as it is hypothesised that most of these trees will be exclusively dispersed by megafauna. The extinction of megafauna will thus result in a loss of seed dispersal for these tree species and cascading ecological consequences can potentially result.

Marcell Slabbert

I am currently doing my BSc. Honours in Environmental Sciences with Ecological Interactions and Ecosystem Resilience at the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus. My modules for the year are Plant Ecophysiology and Stress Physiology, Microbial Ecology, Introduction to Environmental Management, Resilience Thinking in Ecology, Phycology and Conservation Ecology. My honours research project entails the investigation and comparison of the effect of drought stress on the PSI photochemistry of quinoa and maize. This research may help to pave the way for the utilization of quinoa as an alternative climate resilient crop in South Africa to potentially help improve South Africa’s crop productivity and food security in the face of climate change.

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