Senior lecturer, Stellenbosch University

After completion of my PhD studies in 2006, I entered the academic arena as postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pretoria. Two years later, I accepted a permanent lecturing position at the University of Stellenbosch in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology where I currently hold the position of Senior Lecturer. My PhD project focused on the biology, ecology and systematics of a genus of fungi (Sorothrix) from the flowers of South African Protea trees. I was able to demonstrate that these fungi rely on mites for dispersal, which, in turn, relied on pollinating insects for dispersal. The fungi are actively ‘farmed’ by the mites for nourishment – an intriguing example of a fungus-arthropod mutualism. My postdoctoral research built on this theme and focused on the fungal genus Knoxdaviesia and its association with plants and arthropods. More recently, my research have proven the involvement of birds as secondary vectors for the spore-carrying mites in these complex systems. As studies on multiple organism interactions are multidisciplinary by nature, my research repertoire grew quickly to include numerous diverse fields including biodiversity research, ecological experimentation, molecular phylogenetics, systematics and taxonomy. After appointment as core team member of the prestigious DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology (CTHB), I founded the Diversity and Symbiosis Research Group at the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology. The major thrust of this group is research into factors that influence arthropod and microorganism biodiversity, ecology and evolution. Since its inception, the group has described more than 20 new species of fungi, 10 new plant species and 10 arthropod species. Research focused on symbioses includes interactions of microorganisms (fungi and bacteria) with plants (as pathogens and endophytes) and arthropods (as dispersal agents and mutualists), and interactions between plants and arthropods (as pollinators, disease vectors and herbivores). Biodiversity studies focusses on arthropods and microorganisms as bio-indicators of various forms of environmental change. Most recently, molecular tools are employed to explore biodiversity, ecology and evolution of microorganisms in hyper-diverse ecosystems using phylogenetics, comparative genomics and metagenomics.