Dr Marcela Espinaze, a postdoctoral fellow in biomathematics at Stellenbosch University, has been selected by Cambridge University Press' journal Parasitology for the 2020 Early Career Researcher award for the best paper published in the journal during 2019.
The paper, entitled “Parasite diversity associated with African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) and the effect of host and environmental factors", was the first of its kind to record parasites living both in and on African penguins from five different colonies. The findings indicated that parasites were particularly infesting chicks in high-density mainland colonies during spring-time, and have made a valuable contribution to colony management in the region.
The article formed part of Dr Espinaze's PhD project under supervision of Prof Sonja Matthee from the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Prof Cang Hui from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and Dr Lauren Waller, at the time from Cape Nature. The paper was also recognised as Paper of the Month by the journal in March 2019.
Dr Espinaze, who obtained her PhD in Conservation Ecology at Stellenbosch University in 2019, says she would like to keep working at the interface of disease ecology and wild life conservation: “I think it is crucial to understand the transmission of diseases in a holistic context, taking into account the pathogens, and the health of the host and the environment. With my work I hope to make a contribution to the conservation of endangered wildlife, as well as environmental education."
She also has an MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Cape Town, and a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the Austral University of Chile. Before coming to South Africa, she worked as a conservation project coordinator in Patagonia.
With regards to the award, she says it is always very encouraging to have her work recognized: “It makes me feel that I am on the right path, and that people appreciate all the effort and love that we as a team have put into this research project."
The prize includes prize money of £1 000, three months' free access to the article, and social media exposure from Cambridge University Press.