Photo: Willem Augustyn

© 2016 biological interactions

Former Member

Department of Botany and Zoology


biological interactions

Ben Weighill

I have been a nature and outdoor enthusiast from a young age. From visiting game parks with the family to exploring Paarl Mountain behind my home - if there was an animal or plant around it was investigated thoroughly. From this original passion, I decided to pursue a Bsc and Bsc (Hons) in Biodiversity and Ecology at Stellenbosch University to gain further insight and understand more about the world I was so interested in. My interest has just kept growing throughout my studies and resulted in my pursuit of Msc. (Zoology) here at Stellenbosch beginning in 2015. Beneath my deep interest in biological interactions and the evolution thereof also lies a concern for the conservation of wildlife and ecosystems in South Africa. As a country with such a wealth of natural beauty and wildlife areas which are not only stunning to experience but provide economic revenue I see conservation of biodiversity as a priority among concerns as our country develops. Aside from completing my Msc. studies and potentially a subsequent Phd, I also envision myself becoming a registered Professional Scientist and joining the EAPASA as an environmental practitioner to ensure the protection of our natural world as development of our country proceeds. In particular I see myself assisting in the development of wilderness areas into economically viable eco-tourism locations.


My current research is the first in depth study of Willdenowia incurvata (Restionaceae) seed dispersal by the Hairy-footed gerbil (Gerbillurus paeba). To date, only one other case of rodents dispersing seeds has been investigated in the Cape namely the Cape Spiny mouse (Acomys subspinosus) which disperses Leucadendron (Proteacaea) seeds.

I intend to describe this seed dispersing behaviour by tracking tagged seeds in the Cape Strandveld on the West Coast while also monitoring seed storing behaviour using motion sensitive camera traps that will record the nocturnal behaviour of the gerbils. In addition I am also investigating whether a seed trait that is associated with another mode of dispersal, namely the fatty elaiosome from ant dispersed seeds, will affect the gerbils and other rodent’s responses to W. incurvata seeds. This will shed light onto the evolution of these large nut-like seeded plants in the fynbos, particularly those which lack an elaiosome. Finally I also aim to determine how seed burying strategies by the gerbils may prevent the stored seeds being stolen by other gerbils or other rodents to gain insight into the evolution of seed storing behaviour

Current Research