Botany & Zoology
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Research Groups

​​​​​Animal evolutionary ecology and physiology: This is focused on whole-organism performance and how it is influenced by changes in the environment. It involves three main topics:

  • traits that are essential for organism functioning;
  • the environment that is perceived by the organism and how much the environment varies; and
  • the strategies or adaptations that organisms use to cope with variable or sub-optimal environments encompassing behavior, flexible physiological responses and evolution.

Animal plant interactions: This research covers a variety of topics and uses an integrative approach to study floral diversification, plant-pollinator interactions, plant-insect diversity relationships, insect / bird behaviour and how it relates to floral evolution, flower colour, dispersal evolution, the origin and maintenance of species, the coexistence of species and the diversification of the Cape flora and fauna.

Biological Interactions Lab

Cape flora research group: This research focus mainly on DNA based phylogenetic reconstruction and the general biology of the organism (e.g., morphology, palynology, karyology and breeding systems) to reconstruct the evolution of a number of Cape lineages. It is focused on the evolution of alternative growth forms, the evolution and breakdown of the tristylous breeding system, the evolution of recalcitrance and varied seedling recruitment strategies, the role of hybridization in driving the observed diversity and the mutualistic interactions between Fynbos plants, ophiostomatoid fungi and insects.

Biological Interactions Lab

Behavioural ecology: Here the focus is mainly on animal communication, in particular the evolution of animal signals, whether they are olfactory, acoustic or visual. One aspect of the research is the analysis and identification of the signalling systems used by social insects in maintaining colony co-ordination and functioning which is integral to untangling the evolution of sociality in the animal kingdom. Another focus is on various communication strategies used by birds and mammals in relation to mimicry, mate choice, mate guarding, territoriality and helping behaviour.

The Wossler Lab​

Invasion Biology: Members undertake research on the biodiversity consequences of biological invasions. The principal aims of the Centre's work are to reduce the rates and impacts of biological invasions by furthering scientific understanding and predictive capability, and by developing research capacity.

Centre for Invasion Biology

Evolutionary genomics: Members of the Evolutionary Genomics Group combine diverse expertise in molecular analyses to study the evolutionary history of terrestrial and marine fauna and flora. The research is not taxon-specific and is aimed at strengthening conceptual, experimental, analytical and computational expertise in molecular ecology, conservation genetics, comparative cytogenetics, population genetics, phylogeography, comparative genomics and molecular phylogenetics.

Professor Savel Daniels
Professor Conrad Matthee

Doctor Victor Rambau​

Professor Michael Cherry
The Von Der Heyden Lab

Marine research: The research group has four main focal areas, namely polychete biogeoraphy and reproduction, marine invasion ecology, molecular marine ecology and sustainable mollusc culture. This group utilises modern research techniques to better understand southern Africa's dynamic marine realm. Research projects are diverse and range from applying genetics in Marine Protected Areas to assessing impacts of marine alien species.

The Robinson Lab

The Simon Polychaete Lab

Global change ecology: The focus is primarily on climate change and related impacts on unique and often high-biodiversity southern African terrestrial ecosystems, including sub-Antarctic islands. Experimental eco-physiological and systems ecological approaches are applied to develop the mechanistic understanding behind biodiversity responses to climate change trends and to other global change drivers, and the ecosystem structural and functional impacts. This understanding is combined with bioclimatic niche-based modelling (NBM) approaches, hybrid NBM/demographic approaches, and dynamic global vegetation modelling (DGVM) approaches in collaboration with leading groups globally. Predictive application covers a wide range of spatial scales from sub-landscape to continental. The work is cognisant of potential policy value and biodiversity and ecosystem management implications.

The Global Change Biology group​

Medicinal plant biotechnology: This group focuses on the use of plants for medicinal purposes by local people. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the influences of the environment on medicinal plants and associated secondary metabolites specifically in the regulatory mechanisms involved in secondary metabolite production. Biotechnology is applied to a conservation and commercialization strategy. The group largely focuses on medicinal plants that are important in the Greater Cape region.

The Makunga Lab    Twitter    Instagram   ​     ​​

Plant molecular ecology: This research is mainly focussed around the evolutionary biology and molecular ecology of both native and invasive plant species. The main focus areas of the research include:

  • understanding the demographic processes underlying invasive plant populations;
  • the historical biogeography of native plant populations and the processes that shaped them;
  • landscape genetics of invasive plant populations; and
  • the effects of extreme long-distance dispersal in explaining historically-disjunct plant species distributions.
  • understanding modes of plant speciation in dispersal-limited, edaphically- and/or elevationally-fragmented landscapes
  • assessing the contribution of geographic/climatic change in driving plant speciation, species persistence, and species extinction​

Plant Holobiont Biology:Plant Holobiont research studies the interactions between plants and the micro-organisms that inhabit them. This includes bacteria, fungi, and viruses, which are collectively referred to as the plant microbiome. We investigate how micro-organisms affect plant growth, development, and health, as well as how plants interact with and shape their microbiomes over time. Our research uses modern technologies to translate molecular mechanism that shape plant-microbe interactions into creative applications for agriculture, climate change, and conservation. Our lab explores two aspects of the plant holobiont response to environmental change

  • Changes in the Microbiome which have fundamental effects on plant plasticity and adaptation as holobiont,
  • Changes in Plant Holobiont interactions across environmental gradients to determine how environmental changes modulates niche width​​

​School for Climate Studies: The School is engaged in developing and implementing an Africa-relevant research programme that responds to existing and emerging issues in climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation responses, thus supporting human climate resilience. The School will consolidate and integrate current disciplinary and transdisciplinary thinking on climate, conduct and coordinate primary research, publish and make accessible research results, and create or support  the required platforms for data-intensive research and innovation.​

School for Climate Studies​ ​

Antarctic Legacy South Africa (ALSA): Since South Africa annexed the Prince Edward Islands in 1948, South African researchers have been undertaking regular expeditions to the Antarctic Continent, the Prince Edward Islands and Gough Island, as well as elsewhere in the Southern Ocean. The Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) project, based at the Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University and funded by the National Research Foundation as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme, aims to preserve the rich human history of the expeditions conducted over the past 70 years.Aside from the results of biological and physical research, the expeditions have produced a wealth of photographs, videos, and written and oral accounts. This historical record also includes maps, journals, logbooks, newspaper articles, and artworks. The Antarctic Legacy of South Africa collates, digitises and archives these records, along with out-of-print South African research articles and unpublished documents residing in governmental archives, university departments and museums, and makes them accessible to the interested institutions and the public. The ALSA website serves as a public portal to provide access to this information, which currently stands at over 20 000 records.



The South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI)The South African Polar Research Infrastructure (SAPRI) is one of 13 large Research Infrastructures (RIs) developed by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR). The SAPRI was established in 2021 to ensure coordination of South African marine and Antarctic research as a national Big Science programme, providing seamless access to existing and new research infrastructure required to develop and enhance long-term observations of South Africa's polar region. The ultimate objective of SAPRI is to enable balanced research growth across the polar disciplines, and to maintain and further expand the world-class long-term observational datasets already established.

The SAPRI is designed as a consortium hosted at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and is divided into four Integrated Facilities (IFs): Data, Products and Society (DPS), Long-term Observations on Land (LTO-Land), Long-term Observations in the Ocean (LTO-Ocean) and Polar Lab.

The DPS Integrated Facility was established in November 2022 and hosted at Stellenbosch University, within the Faculty of Science, Department of Botany and Zoology. DPS aims to bring together the SAPRI Data Centre, the various types of generated data and downstream products, including modelling and the societal outreach programme.