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Prof Susana Clusella-Trullas examines cold-blooded animals’ response to climate change Susana Clusella-Trullas examines cold-blooded animals’ response to climate changeCorporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking<p>Prof Susana Clusella-Trullas from the Department of Botany and Zoology in the Faculty of Science delivered her inaugural lecture on 19 September 2023. The title of her lecture was “Should I stay or should I go? Examining responses of cold-blooded animals to climate change".<br></p><p>Clusella-Trullas, who is also the Group Leader of the CL•I•M•E lab (Climate and Invasions: Mechanisms in Ectotherms), spoke to the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division about the ways in which her research examines the response of reptiles, amphibians, and insects to climate change so that the assessment of their vulnerability to it can be improved.</p><p><strong>Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.</strong></p><p>My research examines how ectothermic animals, such as reptiles, amphibians and insects, cope with climatic changes, including variability in temperature and relative humidity. My research group focuses on measuring how these organisms function in their habitats. For example, we can measure and predict how much energy they need to maintain basic functions, to reproduce and persist in a changing environment. We can use our understanding of how these animals respond to temperature variability to improve assessments of their vulnerability to climate change. </p><p>I have loved nature and wildlife since I was a small child. My family travelled a lot and I dreamed of being a veterinarian and saving animals all over the world! As I grew up, I realised that I was more interested in the understanding of how animals function in their natural environments and how they interact with each other. I was also very passionate about maths and analysing data. Collecting rigorous data and making robust interpretations from these data are very powerful ways to increase our understanding of how biological systems work and how we can sustain wild animal populations into the future. A career in science seemed a better fit for these goals and the impact of our science has been more far-reaching than I ever anticipated.</p><p><strong>How would you describe the relevance of your work?</strong></p><p>My research has encompassed projects in a wide variety of systems and organisms, including marine and terrestrial species, and using many different approaches, from small case studies to analyses of patterns of animal response at large scales. The common thread in this research has been to study the most adequate system to answer both fundamental and applied questions of local and global relevance. </p><p>For example, will plasticity or evolutionary adaptation be more likely to rescue populations that are vulnerable to climate warming? How can we better define the sensitivity of animals to temperature change? Can we generalise across taxonomic groups or regions when examining individual responses to temperature variability? And how do different drivers of change, such as climate change and biological invasions, interact and affect animal communities? </p><p>By tackling these questions from multiple angles, we strive to enhance our power to predict species' sensitivity and resilience to global change. Our research has measurable applications for managers and policymakers in improving assessments of species' vulnerability to climate change. </p><p><strong>You have spent many years in the challenging environment of higher education. What keeps you going when things get tough?</strong></p><p>Things get tough at times in academia, but I always try to put them into perspective. In fact, there are so many other careers that in my opinion are tougher, perhaps in different ways. My strategy has always been to focus on the positives and live a life that is well balanced between family time, fun and work. A career in science requires multi-tasking (research, teaching, administration, seeking funding, etc.), good time management skills and a lot of dedication and commitment to keep pace with the latest research and teaching methods. </p><p>It is also a very competitive sphere, and it does not always suit all personalities. But it is also a very rewarding career path. I feel proud of the students who have come through my lab and have embraced the complexity associated with experimental designs, gathering key skills that have allowed them to grow, think critically and build resilience towards challenges that have been given to them. This has empowered many students and I hope that it will continue to do so as they face an increasingly challenging employment market.</p><p><strong>What do you like most about your work?</strong></p><p>My favourite thing about academic work is the freedom we have to tackle research questions that we are interested in, or that we can highlight as priorities as a collective group to advance our field. I also really enjoy the opportunities that academic jobs offer such as attending conferences and workshops and networking with innovative people in my broader research field, which allow important questions to be discussed with experts from all over the world. The most pressing issues threatening biodiversity and, therefore, human welfare need careful and well-thought-out assessments and guidelines to devise the best strategies to tackle them. </p><p>Through education and research, we have the power to make a difference in terms of forming well-rounded future scholars and guide decisions in conservation, policy, and government, which can permeate into the protection of biodiversity and the maintenance of human well-being globally. One large priority is for our institutions and governments to continue supporting our science initiatives so that these objectives can be realised.</p><p><strong>What is your message to young girls who aspire to a career in science?</strong></p><p>My message to young girls is to not be deterred by the perceived challenges associated with science. Everyone has different skills, and the focus should be on strategically using your talents while improving the skills that require attention, one step at a time. Science is fun and rewarding, and investing time and effort to learn all these skills does not automatically mean that you must pursue an academic career trajectory. Many of my postgraduate students have pursued future employment in the private sector (e.g. at the<em> </em>South African National Biodiversity Institute or SANBI, C4 EcoSolutions, BerryWorld, AltGen, and Oro Agri SA), while others have enjoyed staying in academia and pursuing teaching and research. </p><p>For women, a career in science can be daunting at times when it means dedicating long periods to study or staying abreast of advances in the field, often meaning postponing or having less time for kids and family. However, times are changing, and most institutions and organisations are increasingly accommodating childcare for women scientists. If that is not the case, we should work together to make it happen!</p><p><strong>Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.</strong></p><p>I have an anecdote instead. When I was a teenager, I was questioned about my nationality at an airport border control because my accent was not Spanish despite having a Spanish passport. I had to explain that I grew up speaking French (and Catalan) with my family and did not learn the formal Castellan. This was a very early warning of how people perceive others without accounting for the diversity of lifestyles and backgrounds and often rely on a piece of paper or limited information to make assumptions. I have tried to avoid this and strive to embrace diversity in all its forms and colours. I also care deeply about the environment and cycle to work most days. I am hoping my attitude will at least influence my kids!</p><p><strong>How do you spend your free time?</strong></p><p>I love the outdoors, spending time with my family in nature to reconnect and take perspective on the good things. Trail running and rock climbing are my favourite pastimes and allow me to switch off from work and recharge my batteries. <br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU student receives Kambule Award for best doctoral dissertation in computational sciences student receives Kambule Award for best doctoral dissertation in computational sciencesFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p>The prestigious <a href="">Thamsanqa W. Kambule Award</a> for the best doctoral dissertation in the computational and statistical sciences at an African university was awarded to <a href="">Dr Arnu Pretorius</a> from Stellenbosch University.<br></p><p>The award was announced during the <a href="">Deep Learning Indaba</a> held in Accra, Ghana, from 3 to 9 September 2023. The award, held in honour of one of South Africa's foremost mathematicians and teachers Dr Thamsanqu W. Kambule, recognises excellence in research and writing by doctoral candidates at African universities in any area of computational and statistical sciences. The <a href="">Deep Learning Indaba</a> is an organisation, established in 2017, to strengthen machine learning and artificial intelligence in Africa.</p><p>Dr Pretorius's dissertation, titled “<a href="">On noise regularised neural networks: initiation, learning and inference</a>", focuses on the mathematical underpinning of how neural networks behave when “noise" is introduced into the learning process. His supervisors were Prof. Steve Kroon from SU's Computer Science Division and Prof. Herman Kamper from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.</p><p>In his <a href="">acceptance speech</a>, Dr Pretorius thanked his supervisors for their in-depth and valuable feedback on his thesis. He also acknowledged the role that the first Deep Learning Indaba at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2017 made on his mindset when he started out with his doctoral research.</p><p>“At the 2017 Deep Learning Indaba, I was blown away by the quality of the work presented at the poster session, and the fact that some researchers had work presented at top AI venues such as the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML). At the time, I didn't think this was possible," he said.</p><p>The <a href="">ICML</a> is regarded as the premier gathering of professionals dedicated to the advancement of machine learning, one of the branches of artificial intelligence. </p><p>In 2018, Dr Pretorius had the opportunity to present his work at the ICML in Stockholm, supported by a <a href="">Google Travel and Conference Grant</a>. At the time, there were only a handful of African researchers present. </p><p>At the next Deep Learning Indaba at Stellenbosch University in 2018, Dr Pretorius presented his work at the poster session. There he met <a href="">Karim Beguir</a>, co-founder and CEO of <a href="">InstaDeep</a>. Beguir is a Google for Startups Mentor with a passion for teaching and using applied mathematics to democratise Artificial Intelligence and make it accessible to a wide audience. Based on this interaction, Dr Pretorius was given the opportunity to join InstaDeep and set up an office in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2020. </p><p>Dr Pretorius is also an extraordinary senior lecturer in SU's Applied Mathematics Division, where he is involved with lecturing for the <a href="">MSc programme in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence</a>. This is a one-year structured master's programme at SU, designed for students with a strong mathematical and computational background. <br></p><p>​<br></p>
Launch of South Africa-Netherlands Cyber Security School 2024 – a first for Southern Africa of South Africa-Netherlands Cyber Security School 2024 – a first for Southern Africa Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking <p>​​Stellenbosch University (SU) and <a href=""><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>The Hague Centre of Strategic Studies​</strong></span></a><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </span>(HCSS) have joined forces to launch South Africa's first International Cyber Security School.<br></p><p>This initiative, driven by Prof Bruce Watson, <a href=""><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><span><strong>Chair of the Centre for AI Research</strong></span><span> </span>​</span></a>(CAIR) and Chair for Computational Thinking at the <a href="/english/data-science-and-computational-thinking"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>School for Data Science and Computational Thinking</strong></span> ​</a>at SU, ​​​​and Noëlle van der Waag-Cowling, also from CAIR, in collaboration with the HCSS and the Netherlands government, will bring together experts, institutions, and the private sector from both the Netherlands and South Africa to deliver a Cyber Security Summer School starting in March 2024.</p><p>Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor and the SU team welcomed Dr Michel Rademaker of HCSS; Ms Hélène Rekkers, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Cape Town, and Mr Joost Bunk, First Secretary at the Netherlands Embassy to the launch of the South Africa-Netherlands Cyber Security School.<br></p><p>The Rector noted that global partnerships are essential in addressing transnational security effectively. “In today's world, where threats know no borders, international cooperation is paramount. It allows nations to pool their resources, share expertise, and establish the legal frameworks needed to combat cyber threats. It is a recognition that security is a collective responsibility, and we must work together to maintain peace and stability in an ever-evolving digital landscape."</p><p>Watson emphasised the importance of an international Cyber Security School within the context of global moves to support an open internet. “Within universities, and the broader research community, there is a shared notion of the need for an open cyberspace."</p><p>Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy, Global and Corporate Affairs at SU, said the new School is aligned with the University's strategy to engage with international higher education networks on global issues. </p><p>One of the challenges facing countries around the world is the widening digital divide, said Rekkers. “This Summer School is a very important step to working with South Africa on this issue."</p><p>The online course, which in its pilot phase in 2024 will be available for free, is aimed at honour's students and young professionals with an interest in cyber security. Course work will include challenges set by government agencies and companies to engage students in real-life problem solving. Offering a qualification in cybersecurity studies, the Summer School will be a “gamechanger for South African cyber skills development," explained Van der Waag-Cowling.</p><p>The HCSS is a think tank which conducts multidisciplinary research on geopolitical and defence and security issues for governments, international institutions, and businesses. Through the Cyber Security School, the HCSS will encourage students from various disciplines to use their respective competencies while working together as a team to address challenges, as they would in the workplace, said Rademaker.</p><p>“Building a high-level cybersecurity workforce in Southern Africa is not just a goal; it is a strategic imperative. It is an investment in our future, one that will support economic growth, protect critical infrastructure, enhance national security, and promote digital inclusion," concluded De Villiers. “By prioritising cybersecurity education and training, we can unlock the digital dividends and ensure a more secure and prosperous future for our region."</p><p><strong>Caption:</strong><br>Dr Michel Rademaker of the Hague Centre of Strategic Studies, Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, and Ms Hélène Rekkers, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Cape Town at the launch of South Africa's first international Cyber Security School.<br></p><p><br></p><p>​<br></p>
From soccer player to PhD candidate soccer player to PhD candidateCERI Media and Communication - Maambele Khosa<p>​Graeme Dor's journey from soccer pitch to the realm of academia has been marked by dedication, passion, and a remarkable ability to balance multiple spheres. Armed with a BSc in GIS and Remote Sensing, as well as an MSc in the same field, both from the University of the Witwatersrand, Dor's academic foundation was strong. But it was his professional soccer career that lent a unique vibrancy to his story.<br></p><p>Growing up in Johannesburg, Dor's childhood was filled with both the thrill of sports and the altruism of humanitarian work ingrained in his family. Bonding with his elder brothers over games and sports, he developed the very skills that would later serve him well in his academic pursuits. </p><p>Dor's soccer journey was a decade-long tale of dedication. Playing for Wits FC, his skills on the field were matched by his commitment to studies and work. While soccer in South Africa often offers limited long-term prospects, Dor's dual commitment led him back to academia, where he recognized his passion for GIS, Data Science, and Public Health. The decision to pursue a PhD at CERI came naturally, aligning his interests and skills for the future.</p><p>The discipline and teamwork instilled in him through soccer find new life in academia. His research focus at CERI is applying geospatial and molecular epidemiological techniques to enhance understanding of endemic and emerging pathogens, particularly in Africa. Drawing parallels between the rigorous discipline required in both fields, Dor is poised to excel in academia just as he did on the field. </p><p>​​Joining the academic community at CERI, Dor looks forward to collaboration and innovation. Guided by the inspiring researchers and academics he encountered during his public health work, he is eager to contribute and learn in equal measure. Reflecting on the intersections between sports and academia, Dor notes how resilience, a hallmark of his sporting career, influences his academic mindset. <br></p><p>Dor's aspirations extend beyond his PhD journey. He aims to create actionable insights into pathogen dynamics in Africa, establishing systems for ongoing monitoring. His future endeavors will continue to be at the forefront of public health. Notably, his inspirations extend from the soccer field to figures like Zinedine Zidane, who exuded effortlessness through skill, and Sibusiso Vilakazi, embodying the hard work that underpins mastery. From soccer's "Mr Mnandi" to an emerging force in academia, Graeme Dor's narrative is a testament to passion, adaptability, and the powerful synergy between sports and scholarship.​​<br></p>
Unveiling the power of bioinformatics: VEME workshop leaves lasting impact the power of bioinformatics: VEME workshop leaves lasting impactCERI Media and Communication - Maambele Khosa<p style="text-align:justify;">In the intricate web of scientific exploration, one thread stands out for its profound influence on clinical research and public health: bioinformatics. The week-long 27th International Bioinformatics & Virus Evolution & Molecular Epidemiology (<a href="">VEME</a>) Workshop, hosted by the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation (<a href="">CERI</a>) at Stellenbosch University from August 20th to 25th, recently concluded, leaving a trail of insights and inspiration. This workshop showcased the symbiosis between experts and enthusiasts, forging a path into the realm of molecular data analysis and its practical implications.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">VEME, a pioneering workshop series, has long been a vanguard of cutting-edge bioinformatics training. In an era where data reigns supreme, VEME tackled the dire need for specialized knowledge. The event brought together eminent researchers from across the globe, united by the common goal of bridging theoretical concepts with real-world application. With their expertise, they illuminated the path for future bioinformatics maestros.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">As the closing remarks of the event, Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, one of the organizers, eloquently summarized the main pillars of VEME's purpose. She stated, "The VEME workshop has three main pillars: to bring people together, to provide methodology and training, and to empower participants to produce tangible results." These pillars encapsulate the essence of VEME, emphasizing collaboration, skill-building, and impactful outcomes.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">At the heart of VEME27's triumph lay its commitment to building capacity. In today's landscape, where torrents of genomic data flow ceaselessly, the ability to harness this wealth is revolutionary. The workshop's structure revolved around four key modules: Phylogeny Inference, Evolutionary Hypothesis Testing, Next Generation Sequencing, and From Trees to Public Health Policy.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Professor Tulio de Oliveira, another organizer, captured the essence of the workshop's impact in a tweet: "Building expertise to quickly respond to epidemics." This sentiment resonated throughout the event, as participants engaged in a half-day module on developing genomic surveillance dashboards. The enthusiasm and interest were palpable, reflecting the shared commitment to rapid epidemic response.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The 2023 VEME transcended borders, uniting 158 eager minds from 39 countries. Through immersive hands-on experiences across the workshop's modules, participants engaged with genomics analysis under the mentorship of 44 top-tier experts. One of the teachers, from the Rockefeller Foundation & Indiana University, USA, reflected on the event, tweeting, "That's a wrap on #VEME2023! Great to catch up with colleagues from across the globe....' Can't wait for next year in #Seattle #VEME2024."</p><p>Beyond the remarkable statistics, VEME has been hosted in 18 different countries across its 27 editions. It is an integral part of a broader African Genomics Capacity Building Program, further underscoring its significance in bolstering scientific expertise on the continent.</p><p>The workshop's impact extended beyond its core activities. A public lecture, hosted as part of the event, drew more than 300 attendees. World-leading experts, Professors Edward Holmes and Marion Koopman, delivered insights that resonated far and wide. Edward C. Holmes, a Professor of Virology at the University of Sydney, Australia, is renowned for his research on the evolution and spread of infectious diseases. Marion Koopmans, a virologist and Professor at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is recognized for her work in emerging infectious diseases, particularly zoonotic viruses with the potential to jump from animals to humans.</p><p>​​As the curtains fall on #VEME2023, the legacy of collaboration, shared knowledge, and unwavering dedication prevails. For those captivated by the confluence of bioinformatics, virus evolution, and molecular epidemiology, VEME stands as a beacon of opportunity. Its reverberations are set to shape research, public health, and the scientific landscape for years to come. ​<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><br></p>
Stellenbosch University to expand research capacity in astronomy University to expand research capacity in astronomy Faculty of Science (media & communication)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">The Department of Physics at Stellenbosch University (SU) will further strengthen its research capacity in astronomy and astrophysics with the appointment of Prof Yin-Zhe Ma, an internationally recognized researcher in the field of computational astronomy and cosmology.  </span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Ma, who will join the Department in September 2023, also focuses on cosmic microwave background radiation, galaxy peculiar velocity field, epoch of reionization, galaxy survey, neutron stars, dark matter search and black holes. He was involved in the European Space Agency's <a href="">Planck</a> mission to study the relic radiation from the Big Bang; and Australia's <a href="">6dF Galaxy Survey</a> project to map the nearby universe. Currently, he is leading a research team participating in a South Africa-USA collaborative project: the Hydrogen Epoch Reionization Array (HERA) and the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) project at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. He is also involved in South Africa's MeerKAT project and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) science working group, as well as China's FAST telescope. He has published more than 120 research publications in peer-reviewed journals in astronomy and astrophysics, with total citations exceeding 24 000. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Ma says astrophysics and cosmology are amongst the fastest growing areas in physics. In this regard South Africa has made large investments in astronomy and astrophysics research and infrastructure, such as the MeerKAT telescope, the HERA project and LSST survey, as well as the human capacity development required in this area. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">With Prof Ma's appointment, the Department of Physics aims to establish a solid astrophysics and cosmology programme which will connect to existing activities of the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking – such as data analysis techniques to handle the big data from telescopes – as well as the work of the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in <a href="">Electromagnetic Systems and EMI Mitigation for SKA</a> in the Faculty of Engineering.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“With this new initiative, SU hopes to contribute to the training of the next generation of researchers in computational astrophysics and promote inter-disciplinary collaborations between our researchers in engineering, physics and data science," says Prof Sibusiso Moyo, DVC Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Support. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Louise Warnich, dean of the Faculty of Science, especially encourages MSc and PhD students to contact Prof Ma directly to join the new astronomy and astrophysics research initiative. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Shaun Wyngaardt, head of the Department of Physics, says they welcome Prof Ma's enthusiasm, and the contributions he will make to the department and the broader physics community in South Africa. </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>More about Prof Ma</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Ma studied physics at Nanjing University in China. After completion of his MSc degree at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he completed his PhD in astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy (IoA), Cambridge University, where he was supervised by Professors George Efstathiou and Anthony Challinor. Before joining SU, Prof Ma worked at as a CITA National Fellow at the University of British Columbia, at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at Manchester University in the United Kingdom as a research associate. He joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal as senior lecturer in 2015 and was promoted to full professor in 2021. He was elected to the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in 2022.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">For more information about the Department of Physics' programs, research and funding opportunities, visit our website at:<br><br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU tops the ranks in SA Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad tops the ranks in SA Tertiary Mathematics OlympiadFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p>​​Stellenbosch University (SU) came out tops at the <a href="">South African Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad</a> recently, with six SU students ranked in the top 12.</p><p>Nearly 300 students from 17 universities participated, and the average performance was 3.7 out of 20 (18.5%). To make it into the ranks of the top 12, you had to obtain at least 12 marks out of 20.  </p><p>Benjamin Kleyn, a first-year student in mathematical sciences from SU, earned second place with 16 out of 20, followed by Kerry Porrill, Andrew Williams, Danielle Kleyn, Karlo Grobbelaar and Jean Weight, also in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.<br></p><p>In terms of university rankings, the top five universities were SU, followed by the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, ADA University in Azerbaijan, and the University of Zululand.</p><p>Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science, congratulated the students with their remarkable achievement, and thanked Dr Liam Baker from the Mathematics Division for his support in helping the students to thrive in these competitions.</p><p>On the photo, from left to right, Danielle Kleyn, Benjamin Kleyn, Dr Liam Baker, Jean Weight, Andrew Williams and Kerry Porrill. Karlo Grobbelaar was absent when the photo was taken). Photo: Wiida Basson​</p><p><br></p>
Biodiversity of natural forests key to buffer severity of non-native tree invasions of natural forests key to buffer severity of non-native tree invasionsWiida Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​<span style="text-align:justify;">A new study, published in </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;"><em>Nature</em> </a><span style="text-align:justify;">this week, has found that the native biodiversity of natural forests largely buffers the severity of non-native tree invasions.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The bad news, however, is that humans remain mostly responsible for introducing non-native tree species to an area in the first place – either intentionally or accidentally.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">These are two of the key findings from a global study to determine the relative importance of human activity, environmental conditions, and biological diversity as drivers of tree invasions worldwide. The study, titled “Native diversity buffers against severity of non-native tree invasions" was published in the journal <em>Nature</em> on Wednesday, 23 August 2023.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Cang Hui, holder of the <a href="">South African research chair in mathematical and theoretical physical biosciences</a> at Stellenbosch University (SU), and one of the co-authors on the study as part of the <a href="">Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative</a> (GFBI), says trees are exposed to a wide range of ecological and human factors, and tree invasions are both drivers and passengers of global environmental changes.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">This is because of their size, long life span and important role in forestry, foraging, city landscaping and reforestation, as well as carbon sequestration and climate regulation. Yet invasion biologists have long been struggling to identify the ecological mechanisms driving the invasion success of a small portion of non-native tree species.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Their findings support the biotic resistance hypothesis, which holds that greater diversity in the native community will fill the ecological niches and reduce available resources, thereby limiting non-native species to take up niche spaces. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The prominent role of human activities, however, came as a surprise: “Our findings suggest that human activity may overwhelm ecological drivers of invasions and even reduce the influence of ecological processes," he warns.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Repeated human introductions of plant species, especially close to ports and airports, play an important role in the initial introduction process. The severity of the invasion, however, is predominantly a result of the intrinsic diversity of the native community.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">It is therefore important to conserve natural forests to maintain high native tree diversity, they write in the paper.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Furthermore, because many tree species are introduced purposefully for forestry or to support local livelihoods, they recommend that local stakeholders are included when making decisions about how best to benefit from these managed forests.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Some of the other findings include: </p><ul><li>The most frequent non-native trees in the GFBI database are Black Locust (<em>Robinia pseudoacacia</em>), Scots pine (<em>Pinus sylvestris</em>), Osage orange (<em>Maclura pomifera</em>), Norway spruce (<em>Picea Abies</em>) and Tree of Heaven (<em>Ailanthus altissima</em>). </li><li>The regions with the greatest likelihood of being invaded are North America, Europe and East Asia.</li><li>In environments experiencing cold or hot temperature extremes, the non-native trees were more similar to the native community.</li><li>Moderate environments allowed a wider range of species to survive.</li></ul><p>​Read the article:<br></p><p>Delavaux et al. (2023) Native diversity buffers against severity of non-native tree invasions. <em>Nature</em>, <a href=""></a></p><p>Photo by <a href="">Michael Michelovski</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a><br></p>
Research on estuarine moonshine worms earns PhD students top awards on estuarine moonshine worms earns PhD students top awardsFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">P</span><span style="text-align:justify;">hD students in marine biology from Stellenbosch University were awarded first and third prizes for their oral presentations on the estuarine moonshine worm, a popular bait species in the Western Cape during the recent </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;">International Polychaete Conference</a><span style="text-align:justify;">.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Stephanie Schoeman was awarded the first prize for her presentation titled “The reproductive strategies of <em>Diopatra </em><em>acicu</em><em>lata</em> (Annelida) in the Knysna Estuary", while Hendré van Rensburg was awarded third prize for his oral presentation titled “Expanding our understanding of the diet and trophic role of the cryptogenic estuarine moonshine worm (<em>Diopatra aciculata</em>) in warm temperature estuaries of South Africa". They are both supervised by <a href="">Prof. Carol Simon</a>, a polychaete specialist in SU's <a href="/english/faculty/science/botany-zoology/Pages/default.aspx">Department of Botany and Zoology</a>.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><a href="">Marine worms</a> (with the scientific name <em>Polychaetes</em>) perform much the same ecological tasks as earth worms on land, that is, providing food for birds or fish, recycling marine compost and keeping the sand oxygenated by their burrowing. The more than 11 500 species display <a href="">tremendous diversity</a>, enabling them to inhabit every imaginable marine habitat.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Marinewormbanner2.png" alt="Marinewormbanner2.png" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Van Rensburg first reported on this large, tube-dwelling worm from the Knysna Estuary during his MSc studies. Previously this specific worm was confused with another species from the Mediterranean. Before that confusion was sorted out, they thought the worm to be an undescribed species endemic to South Africa. However, after DNA analysis they found that this species has also been reported from Australia: “Until further work is done, we still don't know if it is a native species or an alien," he explains.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The challenge, though, is that over the past 25 years this species' population numbers have exploded: “Given its size and the fact that it changes its immediate environment, we expect it to have a significant impact on the benthic community and ecosystem," he adds.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">For his PhD research, Van Rensburg is investigating the role of this species as a consumer in the Knysna and Keurbooms estuaries. Through the combined use of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, he tracks special carbon and nitrogen atoms, called isotopes, through the benthic food web. This analysis will tell him what the animals are consuming and how the estuarine moonshine worm fits into the benthic food web. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I am also extracting DNA from the guts of these worms to be able to tell more precisely which species they consume," he adds.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Schoeman's research investigates the origin of the worms and their dispersal patterns in South Africa: "We want to understand why the  estuarine moonshine worm occurs in such high densities, despite being extensively used as bait by fishermen. In this regard I focus on the regeneration and reproduction  strategies of these worms in order to shed light on how they are able to survive," she explains. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Thus far her research has included eighteen months of fieldwork. She hopes that her research will aid in conservation efforts to preserve this diverse ecosystem and protect it as an important socio-economic resource.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Van Rensburg emphasises how important it is for biologists and ecologists to understand the interactions and connections between organisms in the benthic communities of South Africa's estuaries, especially how major ecosystem-wide changes can be affected when there is the slightest change in a parameter.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Ultimately, it is about the protection of these ecosystems and their communities, he concludes.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The 14th International Polychaete Conference was hosted by Stellenbosch University and Iziko Museums South Africa from 3 to 7 July 2023 – the first time for the conference to be held in Africa. Prof. Simon is the immediate past president of the International Polychaete Association and also chaired the organising committee. The 119 participants from 25 countries gave 70 oral and 70 poster presentations. More than 20% of the delegates were from five African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Tunisia, Namibia and Ethiopia) and delivered eight oral and 13 poster presentations.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The conference was successful in fostering collaborations between African and international researchers, and we are confident that this will inspire much more polychaete research on the continent," Prof Simon said.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The conference was preceded by an identification workshop (29 June to 1 July) which was facilitated by international experts from Spain, Russia, Brazil, France, Australia, Wales, Norway and South Africa. The 25 participants were mainly from South Africa, but also from Namibia, Ghana, Japan, and Iceland. Most local participants were professional environmental consultants or officials from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. The workshop focussed on the identifications of polychaetes belonging to seven families that are encountered most frequently in benthic samples. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><em>Images of the estuarine moonshine worm courtesy of Hendré van Rensburg and Stephanie Schoeman.</em><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">On the photo's above: Hendré van Rensburg and Stephanie Schoeman at work in the marine biology lab in the research group of Prof. Carol Simon in the Department of Botany and Zoology. <em>Photo credit: Wiida Basson</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Consistent performance for SU on ARWU Rankings performance for SU on ARWU RankingsCorporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​​Stellenbosch University's (SU's) vision to be Africa's leading research-intensive university is supported by being counted among the top higher education institutions globally when it comes to research outputs, particularly articles published in accredited international journals.<br></p><p>This has been confirmed by the latest <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Shanghai Ranking Consultancy's Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)</strong></a> released recently. According to <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">the 2023 version</strong></a>, SU has increased the number of academic papers published in two of the most reputable journals in the world <em>Nature </em>and <em>Science</em>. SU improved its score from 5,9 in 2022 to 9,6 in 2023. </p><p>Overall, SU continues to find itself among the top 2% of universities in the world and the ARWU ranking places SU in third place in South Africa, sharing this position with the University of Pretoria</p><p>The ARWU uses the following six objective indicators to rank more than 2500 universities every year of which the best 1000 are published:</p><ul><li>The number of alumni who win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals </li><li>The number of staff who win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals</li><li>The number of highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories</li><li>The number of papers published in <em>Nature</em> and <em>Science</em> </li><li>The number of papers indexed in the Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index</li><li>The per capita academic performance of an institution</li></ul><p>“In line with our vision to be Africa's leading research-intensive university, we also want to discern ourselves in higher education globally. Our consistent performance on this particular ranking is testimony of the continuous, high-level contribution of our researchers to the global scientific pool of knowledge," says Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy, Global and Corporate Affairs at SU. “The increase in the number of articles in <em>Nature </em>and <em>Science</em> is a further feather in the cap," she adds. </p><p>In March 2023, SU was also among the leading higher education institutions in the world on the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings by Subject, while in June it achieved a remarkable feat by making it into the top 300 tertiary institutions on the QS World University Rankings.</p><p>Over the last few years, SU has been consistently ranked among the best tertiary institutions in the world on various global university rankings, including the QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Times Higher Education Emerging Economies University Rankings. </p><ul><li><strong>​Photo by Stefan Els (Corporate Communication and Marketing at SU)</strong></li></ul><p>​ <br></p><p>​<br></p>