SAAB Awards for 2014

Bronze Junior Medal Award 2014 – Dr Alastair Potts

Dr. Alastair Potts recently obtained his PhD from the University of Cape Town. His thesis explored the evolutionary history of the Albany Subtropical Thicket using a combination of distribution modelling and phylogeography (investigating the distribution of genetic lineages across the landscape). Part of his research indicates that wind- and bird-dispersed plant species have populations largely isolated from one another within drainage basins along the deeply incised coastal lowlands of the south coast. In contrast, mega-herbivore (i.e. elephant and rhino) dispersed species form a single connected and extensive meta-population in the same area. The South African Association of Botanists recently awarded him the SAAB Junior Medal for the outstanding work presented in his PhD (this is available for download from: Alastair is currently a senior lecturer and an NRF Research Career Advancement Fellow at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. For more information regarding Alastair and his research you can visit

Gold Medal Award 2014 – Prof Richard Cowling

Richard Cowling’s name has become a household word in conservation ecology in SouthAfrica. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his untiring efforts to help safeguard over 100 000 ha of threatened natural habitat. The creation of Baviaanskloof nature reserve for example is due in large part to his initiative. Similarly, his research on the restoration of degraded subtropical thicket is guiding programmes in the state and private sectors to restore hundreds of thousands of hectares via the carbon market using spekboom (Portulacaria afra) as a carbon sequestrator. He has mentored some 26 PhD and 32 Masters students and published over 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals together with four books and 59 articles in the popular press. During his 35 year career as a professional botanist, he and his colleagues have conducted ground-breaking research in community ecology, endemism, fire ecology, ecophysiology, geomorphology, palaeoecology, phylogeography, population ecology and soil science much of which has then translated into applied outcomes in areas such as conservation planning, degradation ecology, ecological economics, ecosystem services, invasion biology, natural resource management, restoration ecology and social marketing.

Internationally he is listed on as among 250 most cited researchers in Ecology/Environment in the world. In 2004 he received the Distinguished Service Award of the Society for Conservation Biology (USA) for his cutting edge research on conservation planning. In 2008 he was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) in recognition of his research on the diversity, evolution and conservation of the fynbos flora. His long-standing contribution to the ecology of Mediterranean-climate regions – in this case the fynbos biome – resulted in his appointment in 2011 by the International Society of Mediterranean Ecologists as a Distinguished MEDECOS Fellow. He was appointed a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America in 2012 for his contribution to ecological science.

The South African Association of Botanists salutes Richard Cowling for his outstanding contribution to South African botany and the environment.