SAAB Awards 2022

The recording of the ceremony:

Gold medal winner: Professor Brian Huntley

Professor Brian Huntley

Brian Huntley has, over a period of fifty years, made an enormous contribution to South African botany. He has done this principally by creating opportunities for South African botanists at national and global levels. Starting in the 1970s, he coordinated the CSIR’s  world-pioneering, biome-based research programmes in South Africa that fostered research and training opportunities in co-ordinated, collaborative settings. As Director of the organizations which became SANBI, he created a culture of both policy-relevant and blue skies botanical research which contributed to botany’s leadership on climate change impacts on biodiversity, plant species conservation, environmental degradation and continuing leadership in plant systematics and taxonomy. Within SANBI, he fostered the bioregional planning programmes that generated world-class research on conservation planning and ecosystem services for real-world implementation. He obtained international funding for, and helped drive, SABONET and other co-operative initiatives between South African botanists and their colleagues in other southern African countries. He has a special interest in Angola and has helped lead conservation planning, and research cooperation among South African and Lusophone countries. Over the years he has developed a formidable international network to promote South African botany more generally. He also promoted local interest in botany by revitalising South Africa’s network of botanical gardens including novel ways of attracting new visitors, young and old. He is a noted author of both scientific papers and books for general readers, including an iconic book on Kirstenbosch.  

Silver medal winner: Professor Ed Witkowski

Professor Ed Witkowski

Prof Witkowski’s research contributes to the conservation and preservation of important and threatened vegetation types and plant taxa. Through his and his students’ insights and interventions, rare and endangered species have been saved from extinction and management has been set in place that enhances their chances of future survival. His research has also provided a body of knowledge that supports sustained utilization of indigenous species that are economically important, including in traditional medicine.

Prof Witkowki’s greatest legacy to South African botany is the community of postgraduates he has trained. He has successfully supervised a total of 67 Masters students (23 Research Reports, 44 Dissertations and a further 7 upgraded to PhD) and 29 PhD students (a total of 96 in all, excluding very many Honours students) and is currently supervising 3 Masters and 6 PhD’s. He has hosted 4 postdoctoral fellows.

Prof Witkowski has a record of over 200 journal publications, a total of over 5 000 citations and a most cited paper with 453 citations, and he is now receiving over 400 citations per year. He has authored 8 Book Chapters, 19 items in refereed Conference Proceedings and is an author on 26 Technical Reports. His publications cover a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, plant ecology in various biomes, conservation of endangered plants and ecosystems, ecology & control of invasive alien plants and their impacts on ecosystem structure and function, restoration ecology and natural resource management.

Bronze medal winner: Dr Daniel Zhigila

Dr Zhigila started his doctoral studies at University of Cape Town in January 2017 and submitted his thesis in November 2019, in a record 3-year period. This thesis comprises six Chapters, among which four (Chapters 2-5) present data arising from the study, with Chapter 1 being a general introduction and Chapter 6 is a synthesis. Three journal papers are already published based on these results and a 4th manuscript is nearly ready for submission.

The thesis (Molecular phylogenetics, taxonomy and niche-based conservation risk assessment of Thesium L. (Santalaceae)) contributed novelty and advanced knowledge on African plants.

Conference Prizes:

Best Young Scientist: Lauren James

Best PhD Oral Presentation: Aarifah Jakoet

Best MSc Oral Presentation: Martin Mushomba

Best Honours Oral Presentation: Jo Cobbold

Best Speed Talk Presenter: Soane Ludick