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Research Team

MR RENIER BALT
Citizen Scientist

I am an engineer by training and project manager by profession with a passion for conservation and birdlife. Through exposure to environmental issues whilst involved in satellite imagery projects, the plight of mother earth and the challenge to conserve biodiversity was obvious; this led to the conviction that taking individual responsibility for environmental matters is not negotiable, and should become a way of life.

DR BRIGITTE BRASCHLER
Stellenbosch University

I grew up in Switzerland and studied biology there at the University of Basel from where I obtained my MSc and PhD, both on the effects of habitat fragmentation on insect population dynamics. My research focus is on biodiversity, what regulates it and how it is affected by global environmental change. I mostly work on insects, often ants. After a first post-doc at the University of York to work on factors affecting climate-driven range expansions of butterflies, I joined the University of Sheffield for a post-doc that would bring me to South Africa and let me explore the beautiful Cape Floristic Region. I took part in a collaborative project with the Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B) at Stellenbosch University to examine ant diversity in the Western Cape in combination with outreach activities involving high school learners and teachers. I continued to stay involved in the Iimbovane Outreach Project when I joined the C·I·B in 2009 as a post-doc and continued to examine the ant diversity of the Western Cape, employing field surveys and lab experiments to get information on species distributions, as well as on their foraging behaviour and physiology. In the most recent development I am now doing a post-doc collecting ants for the IDRC-iBOL barcoding campaign, sourcing them via the existing ant projects of the C·I·B and through dedicated field trips.

MR BARNABAS DARU
University of Johannesburg

I was born in Kerang of Mangu, Plateau State, Nigeria. I graduated at the University of Jos, Nigeria. After graduating, I worked with the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, Nigeria as a research assistant. I had a wide array of experiences there including assisting senior researchers in carrying out ecological research. Shortly when I was called-up for a mandatory one-year national youth service where I taught secondary school biology in a rural area of Oyo State Nigeria, I was selected for the 2008 Tropical Biology Association (TBA) Field course in Kibale, Uganda. The TBA field course was my first exposure to plant biology where I carried out a project on Lantana camara. It was what got me hooked on plant biology. I pursued that research interest first as a Graduate Assistant in University of Jos, Nigeria and currently I am enrolled for a master study at the University of Johannesburg. I presented preliminary findings from my MSc project at the Southern Africa Society of Systematic Biologist in Rhodes University early this year and was awarded the Best MSc Presentation.

The Toyota Outreach will be another opportunity for me to explore my interest in biology.

MS LINDA DAVIS
Natal Museum

Ms Linda Davis has been with the Natal Museum since 01/01/1991. She is the Collection Manager of Mollusca in the Department of Natural Sciences. Her duties are essentially to maintain and curate the Natal Museum Mollusca Collection (which is the largest collection of southern African molluscs in the world). She has taken part in a number of field surveys, most notable of which have been three trips to Madagascar.

Linda has considerable expertise and experience as a scientific illustrator specializing in pen and ink and water colours and in the preparation of plates. Prior to working at the museum she was employed at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, Cape Town as a botanical artist to work on illustrations for Dr. John Rourke’s monograph on the genus Mimetes.

DR ANDREW DEACON
SANPARKS

Based in the Kruger National Park, Dr Andrew Deacon is currently a research manager at Scientific Services and specializes in aspects related to Aquatic systems and Biodiversity. He was employed by the South African National Parks after completing a PhD in Zoology in 1989 at RAU, and initially coordinated research in the Kruger National Park (KNP) as part of the multidisciplinary KNP Rivers Research Programme. During the following 22 years he became a programme manager for the Savanna Unit and is currently coordinating monitoring and research programmes for aquatic ecosystems and small animal ecology in 15 National Parks (including Addo-, Kalahari- and Kruger NP).

Dr Deacon has become involved in national programmes including the SA River Health Programme, Water Research Commission steering committees and Department of Water Affairs environmental requirement studies. He successfully motivated and applied for the Pafuri area to become the Makuleke Ramsar Site in the north of the Kruger Park. As a recognized Ichthyologist and Freshwater Ecologist he is also being available as a specialist consultant involving ecological studies. Apart from projects in South Africa, he has worked on assignments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Swaziland.

Birding, snorkelling, identifying marine fish and photography, as well as being enthusiastic about biodiversity, all contribute to Dr Deacon being an all-round nature devotee.

MR CHRISTIAN DESCHODT
University of Pretoria

Christian worked for the past 8 years as research assistant in the Dung Beetle Research Unit at the University of Pretoria. The Dung Beetle Research Unit specialise in the certifying of dung beetle friendly dips and the certification of natural grazing using dung beetles as indicators. His primary interest is classical and molecular taxonomy of the “primitive” dung beetle groups, especially in Namakwaland and the drier parts of southern Africa. He is presently part-time busy with a masters degree in which the distribution and relationships of a flightless group of dung beetles in Namakwaland are studied. Christian’s hobbies are beekeeping and insect photography.

DR RICHARD GREENFIELD
University of Johannesburg

Hi my name is Dr Richard Greenfield. I am the technician at the University of Johannesburg, Department of Zoology. I specialize in conducting field sampling trips and collect samples for various projects held within the department. Currently some of the work I am participating in includes, fish and macro invertebrate studies on the Levhuvhu and Olifants rivers in the Kruger National Park, Stable isotope analysis or comparisons of the diets of tigerfish of the Pongola River System, Pongola Dam and the Levhuvhu and Olifants River systems and I am also involved in the iBol project. I collect samples for barcoding on most of my sampling trips in an effort to assist in increasing the number of species sampled but also to provide comparative data for the species in the different systems and distribution studies. I am very pleased to be given the chance to get involved in such an excellent initiative and am looking forward to the adventure.

DR MARIEKA GRYZENHOUT
University of the Free State

I have a passion for fungi and plants. My main “claim to fame” is the taxonomy and systematics of the Cryphonectriaceae, a group of internationally important forest tree pathogens that I continue to study. I am, however, also interested in the taxonomy and systematics of other fungi, and especially for fungi from South Africa. My main research focus points that I am working on currently are fungal pathogens of various crops and native trees, endophytes (fungi occurring inside plants without causing disease), and specifically their taxonomy, ecology, and biodiversity.  I am especially interested to promote the need to include fungi in conservation and to study how they can benefit conservation initiatives.  This is especially so because despite the estimated 200 000 fungal species in South Africa of which only 4% have names, a very small number of people are exploring and characterising their diversity.  Barcoding thus represents an exciting tool to responsibly do this while at the same time training human capacity. I am a lecturer at the University of the Free State, Department of Plant Sciences, where I am involved with the applied, exciting and satisfying field of Plant Pathology.  Other activities I am involved in are the African Workgroup for Fungal Conservation that provides a platform for African mycologists passionate about promoting fungi.  I am also the Secretary of the newly found International Society for Fungal Conservations, the Fungal Barcoding Working Group and President of the African Mycological Association.

Another passion I have is to share my awe for fungi with other people, especially about the more commonly known mushrooms. There is so much to tell and so much to do, and I hope to promote the fungi under nature lovers as best I can. In addition to past public presentations and popular publications, I have also started an e-mail list server, called Mycorrhiza (see www.safungi.co.za), for people who would like to learn more about mushrooms and other fungi.   This culminated in a small field guide on common mushroom of South Africa published in 2010 by Randomhouse Struik.

DR ROBERT HANNER
Associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network

Robert Hanner is the Associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network, headquartered at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph. He currently Chairs the Database Working Group of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) and also serves as Campaign Coordinator for the Fish Barcode of Life (FISH-BOL) initiative, a project of global scale that aims to assemble a standard reference sequence library for the molecular identification of all fishes.
My research focus involves the assembly and curation of genetic resource collections, involving everything from fieldwork methodologies to bioinformatics approaches. With the window of sampling opportunity closing for much of the World’s biodiversity, the global DNA Barcoding initiative offers an outstanding opportunity to compile a well-characterized genetic resource collection of immense scope. My work involves raising the standards of, and disseminating relevant information on, how we sample biodiversity with an eye toward future genetic and genomic research. It is imperative that we maintain as much evidentiary value in our collections as possible and frozen tissue collections are a critical component of this mandate. High-quality specimen collections are essential for not only DNA barcoding and taxonomy, but also for more applied disciplines such as epidemiology and environmental toxicology. This makes my research focus multidisciplinary and collaborations with interested researchers and students are always sought. I am particularly interested in the development of molecular diagnostic tools for species identification and applications of those tools to questions involving biodiversity conservation and forensics. On a more philosophical level, I am interested in solving taxonomic problems, such as delimiting species boundaries, with phylogenetic solutions derived from the integration of multiple independent data sets (i.e. a total evidence approach). A thorough integration of behavioral, physiological, anatomical and genetic information provides a holistic approach toward the study of organismal evolution.

DR DAI HERBERT
Natal Museum

David (Dai) Herbert was born and brought up in Wales. After obtaining his Ph.D. from London University in 1984, he took up his present position in the Natal Museum. He is currently secretary of Unitas Malacologica, the global professional society of malacologists, and a member of the IUCN Mollusc and southern African Invertebrates specialist groups. He has published two books, over 60 scientific publications and a similar number of popular articles.

Initially his research interests focused on marine gastropods, in particular the Vetigastropoda, but in the mid 1990s he crawled out of the sea and began chasing land snails, though he still maintains an interest in vetigastropods through students and collaborative research projects.

PROF ERIK HOLM
Projek Aardwolf (KykNET)

Prof Erik Holm is well known for his radio talks on insects. He is a specialist on the Cetoniinae and Buprestidae of Africa. He has published over 100 scientific papers as well as several major revisions and monographs. He is the co-editor of “The Insects of South Africa” and “The Jewel Beetles of Africa”, the author of “Insectlopedia of southern Africa” and the co-author of “Fruit Chafers of South Africa”, just to name a few. He lectured at the University of Pretoria for twenty years, during which time he established the school of insect taxonomy.

Prof Holm has discussed biology for numerous years on radio and currently forms part of the team of the environmental television program “Projek Aardwolf” on KyKNET. 

MS ROBIN LYLE
Distong National Museum of Natural History

I am working at the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (former Transvaal Museum) where I am curator of the Lower Invertebrate Collection, which is mainly made up of spiders. I have participated in numerous surveys as a team leader for the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA) where I had a chance to collect in some really amazing places in southern Africa.

Most of my research involved the taxonomy of the family Corinnidae from the Afrotropical Region.  This research formed part of my honours and master’s degrees at the University of the Free State. Currently, I am enrolled at the University of Pretoria for a PhD focusing on the taxonomy and systematics of the front-eyed trapdoor spider family Idiopidae.

DR OLIVIER MAURIN
University of Johannesburg

I was born in Chene-Bougeries, Switzerland. My interested in plants started very early; growing a wide range of them from cuttings and seeds in my room at home. I received an engineering degree in horticulture in 2000 at Lullier, Geneva and it was during these years where my passion for plants really developed. In 2001 I accepted a position at the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew where I was involved in a study of Coffea and a large-scale phylogeny of monocots. While at Kew I had the opportunity to be part of two plant collecting expeditions, one in Cameroon and the second in Madagascar. This is something I was dreaming of for many years. I left Kew in 2006 to start a full-time PhD at the University of Johannesburg mostly because I was promised to be involved in lots of fieldwork in southern Africa. Whilst completing my PhD I became actively involved in several international DNA barcoding initiatives and offered advanced training to researchers and students from Africa, striving to become involved in DNA barcoding. I conducted several field excursions during the past four years collecting plants in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I received my PhD in 2010 and have now accepted a three-year IRDC-iBOL postdoctoral fellowship based at UJ where I play a lead role in overseeing day-to-day activities on plant DNA barcoding.

PROF VINCENT SAVOLAINEN
Imperial College London, UK

Vincent Savolainen is Professor of Organismic Biology in the Division of Biology at Imperial. Before joining the College in 2007, he spent nine years as Deputy Head of Molecular Systematics at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he still holds joint appointment. Professor Savolainen is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Fellow of the Institute of Biology. In 2006, he was awarded the Linnean Society’s Bicentenary Medal for contribution by a biologist under 40 years old. In 2008, he was awarded a European Research Council Advanced Grant, and the following year a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. Professor Savolainen sits on various panels and advisory committees, including the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Peer Review College, the Royal Society-Leverhulme Africa Grants, and the European Research Council’s Starting Grants, and has chaired the Royal Society Research Grants Board H since 2008. His group combines field ecology, molecular phylogenetics, population genetics, and genomic approaches to help explain the origin of biodiversity and, where possible, find solutions for its preservation in a rapidly changing world.

MR BEZENG SIMEONE
University of Johannesburg

I grew up in the north-western region of Cameroon. I obtained my bachelor degree in Botany with a minor in Environmental Sciences from the only Anglo-Saxon university in Cameroon. While studying, I assisted my lecturer as a field assistant in numerous field expeditions to the Korup National Park. After my degree, I worked for a year on the WWF-JENGI south-east Forest project as a research assistant in the newly created Nki National Park where I did Ecological “Bias” monitoring and participate in many meetings with local people living on the border of the Park. My love for biodiversity and nature conservation was further increased when I was given the opportunity to do an MSc degree at the University of Johannesburg in which I seek to find what drives invasion success on Robben Island, South Africa.

Personally working with nature is the most rewarding job as you get the opportunity to interact with people and also the possibility to travel to new places. Finally I am very grateful for this opportunity and I am looking forward to this great and exciting trip.

PROF HERMAN VAN DER BANK
University of Johannesburg

Herman obtained his B.Sc. in 1982, B.Sc-Honours in 1983 and M.Sc. in 1984, was junior lecturer (1985-1986), and studied part time (obtained his doctorate, 1988). He was promoted (lecturer 1987–1990, senior lector until 1997, associate professor until 2004 and then professor). He completed 6 certificate courses and passed Information Technology I-III cum laude. He was external examiner and moderator for undergraduate courses at two colleges, one university and one technicon, evaluated M.Sc. dissertations and Ph.D. theses for 4 universities, and research publications for 5 national and 16 international journals on a regular basis. He granted interviews for 4 national television programs and one radio program, is a member of 10 professional national societies, director of an international institute, and member of the editorial advisory board of an international journal. He is author/co-author of more than 130 research publications (74% international), and presented 22 international (5 as invited guest speaker) and 49 national conference contributions. 23 M.Sc. (one received the Junior Captain Scott Medal for best national dissertation) and 7 Ph.D. students graduated under his guidance. Three of his formerly students are associate professors, two senior lecturers, one was the Head of the Fish and Reptile Research at the Parks Board and one was the Head of the Freshwater Fish Nature Conservation (Namibia). He is NRF rated. 

PROF MICHELLE VAN DER BANK
University of Johannesburg

I grew up in Karasburg, a small village in Namibia, close to nature. I started my career as a zoologist working on Trichodina, tiny parasites within the bladders of frogs. I then found a position at the Botany department at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was here that I decided to continue my PhD in Botany and not Zoology. In 1996 I accepted a junior lecturing position at the old RAU University. Currently I am appointed as an associate professor in the department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology at University of Johannesburg where I am involved in under and postgraduate teaching and several capacity building projects in Africa. For me personally there is nothing more rewarding than working with young people pursuing them to take up a career in science. My job also takes me to beautiful places and I meet very interesting people – a real privilege.