Photo: Leanne Dreyer

© 2016 biological interactions

PhD student with L.L. Dreyer

Department of Botany and Zoology


biological interactions

Michelle Jooste

I have always enjoyed scientific research, spending time exploring the outdoors and I am currently doing my PhD in plant-microbial interactions at Stellenbosch University. Throughout my post-graduate studies I have been involved with various fieldwork excursions where we collected data for terrestrial- and marine-research projects around the Cape. These experiences, together with my own research and many family holidays at Cape Infanta, have shaped my love and appreciation for the fauna and flora in the incredibly diverse Cape Floristic Region.

My MSc research on leaf anatomy and eco-physiology of the South African members of the genus Oxalis has fostered an appreciation for the beauty of the functional microscopic detail present everywhere in nature. With the ability to observe such detail, we have discovered an example of an unexplored symbiotic-network between Oxalis hosts and endophytic micro-organisms – this led to the work I am currently doing for my PhD dissertation.

Apart from my interests in scientific research, I am also a passionate artist. I am currently involved with a fantastic project to do a series of illustrations of indigenous plants and animals from a typical Cape garden for publication in a children’s storybook. I hope to continue combining art and science by creating scientific illustrations to convey information to a wider audience.

After completing my PhD I hope to channel what I’ve learnt back into the South African community through education, research and conservation. Given the current climate change predictions, which pose a serious threat to ecosystems, I hope to keep my career relevant and to make a meaningful contribution to research and conservation of South African biodiversity.


There is growing evidence that many of the plants from the Cape harbour unique rhizospheric and endophytic micro-organisms. However, very little is known about micro-organismal community composition between and within Cape plant species, and how they may have promoted species richness and diversification.

South African Oxalis is incredibly species-rich (ca. 230 species) and they occur across a vast range of environments that include nutrient poor, disturbed and drought prone habitats. Through our first year of research, we have discovered an example of an unexplored symbiotic-network. From only six Oxalis species (from one location), we have identified a total of 119 bacterial morphotypes and 29 fungal genotypes that appear to be true endophytes

We want to elaborate on our initial work to explore and understand the nature of the relationships between the host plant and the endosymbionts by implementing growth medium and environmental sequencing techniques. We aim to conduct a survey of all endophytes present within phylogenetically representative Oxalis species from various locations and habitats. Understanding these symbiotic interactions may shed light on the germination success, invasive potential, population ecology (and associated conservation potential), and long-term evolutionary success of this large, variable angiosperm genus which forms a major component of the Cape flora.

Current Research

Peer reviewed paper:

Jooste, M., Dreyer, L.L. and Oberlander, K.C. 2016. The phylogenetic significance of leaf anatomical traits of southern African Oxalis. BMC Evolutionary Biology 16:225.

Scientific illustrations:

Figure 4 illustrated by M. Jooste in: The phylogenetic significance of leaf anatomical traits of southern African Oxalis (2016).