Photo: Nombuso Ngubane
Department of Botany and Zoology
My interests lie in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. My academic background consists of a BSc Degree in Genetics and Zoology (UCT), and a BSc (Hons) in Biodiversity and Ecology (SU). During my undergraduate degree I became interested in population genetics and molecular ecology. I worked as a part-time research assistant for the Plant Conservation Unit based at the University of Cape Town. This expanded my field of interest to include Botany. Subsequently, I took an internship with SANBI’s Invasive Species Programme as a science communication intern, focused mainly on plant invasions.
Broadly, I am interested in inter-organismal interactions (animal-plant-(other) microorganisms) and the legacies these interactions leave on species and their respective genotypic and phenotypic make-up. I am interested in how interspecies interactions have affected evolutionary journeys of the co-dependents. I am also fascinated by the responses exhibited by ecosystems upon introduction of new factors (biotic and abiotic). This has guided my academic journey and, as a result, I have been accumulating the skill set to equip me in recognising and, successfully, undertaking projects that best complement my research interests.
The main aim of my Masters is to investigate the population genetics of three Protea associated Ophiostoma species; O. africanum, O. protearum and O. splendens. These species belong to the fascinating Ophiostoma splendens complex, which comprises of both host specific and generalist species. Ophiostoma splendens and O. protearum are hosted by Protea repens and P. caffra, respectively, while O. africanum is hosted by P. caffra, P. dracomontana and P. gaguedi. Ophiostoma protearum and O. africanum are, however, so genetically and morphologically similar that in some cases ITS markers cannot distinguish them. It has thus been proposed that they may in fact be incipient species.
For the purpose of this project microsatellite markers are the markers of choice. Microsatellite markers based on the O. splendens genome will be used to understand the movement of O. splendens across the distribution range of its host (P. repens). In order to assess dispersal and population dynamics of O. africanum and O. protearum the distribution of microsatellite alleles will be analysed across twelve populations. Lastly, the North-South direction of migration of the Ophiostoma genus will be tested based on the populations of these species.