Welcome to Stellenbosch University

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Department of Botany and Zoology​​​

The Department teaches and conducts research at postgraduate level in a variety of internationally competitive research programmes. It is a leader in the field of evolutionary biology, with a specific focus on the unique opportunities offered by Africa's biodiversity. 

​It is also home to the DSI/NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB). The CIB aims to improve the ability, through scientific knowledge, to understand, control and manage invasive species to improve the quality of life of all South Africans.​ It also houses the newly launched School for Climate Studies, which will create transdisciplinary capacity for research combining climate-related knowledge systems across faculties and the public sector's climate policies and initiatives.


Evolutionary ecology

This research uses an integrative approach, spanning molecular to community level perspectives, to address two broad themes: 

  • the evolution and ecology of interactions between plants and their symbionts; 
  • the diversification of the Cape biota and its consequences for coexistence. 
​Specific topics include evolution of specialisation, floral diversification, plant breeding systems, community assembly, coevolution, plant-insect diversity relationships, insect/bird behaviour, seed dispersal, speciation, hybridisation, polyploidy, plant-insect-fungus-bacteria interactions, plant growth form diversity, plant systematics and taxonomy.

Animal plant interactions

​This research covers a variety of topics and uses an integrative approach to study floral diversification, plant-insect interactions, plant-insect diversity relationships, insect behaviour and how it relates to floral evolution, colour of flowers, dispersal evolution, the origin and maintenance of species, the coexistence of species and the diversification of the Cape flora and fauna. Animal-plant interactions have also seen a more applied approach, with a focus on pollination ecosystem services in South African agricultural systems.

Behavioural ecology

​Here the focus is largely 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. 

Cape flora research group

​This research focus mainly on phylogenetic reconstruction and the general biology of the organism (e.g., morphology, palynology, karyology and breeding systems) to reconstruct the evolution of several 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 and the role of hybridization in driving the observed diversity.

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. 

evolutionary and Eco-physiology

Research focuses in understanding the causes and consequences of fine and broad-scale variation in the physiology of animals, with a strong emphasis on ectotherms, such as reptiles and insects. We study a range of whole-organism traits, including metabolic rate, water loss, temperature tolerance and sensitivity of performance and fitness. We employ a range of approaches to examine these traits (comparative studies, experimental evolution, mesocosms and field studies) in order to depict plastic and adaptive responses of these organisms in an ecological relevant framework.

Evolutionary genomics

​Members of the Evolutionary Genomics Group combine diverse expertise in molecular analyses to study the evolutionary history of terrestrial, freshwater and marine fauna and flora. Our 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. 

Marine research

The research group has several focal areas including polychaete taxonomy, systematicsand reproduction, invertebrate ecology and diversity, marine invasion ecology, molecular marine ecology, climate change and human coastal ecology. This group utilises modern research techniques to better understand southern Africa's dynamic marine realm. Much of the marine group's varied research is applied to solving challenges that affect marine biodiversity and human well-being​. 

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. 

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. 

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.


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