Two prestigious prizes for Plant Science student

Posted on March 07, 2016

Ms Rabia Mathakutha, a master’s student in the Department of Integrated Plant and Soil Sciences recently received two prestigious awards at the Joint Annual Conference of the South African Association of Botany (SAAB) and the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology (SASSB). She won the award for the best oral presentation by an MSc student, and the best oral paper by a young scientist.

This Joint Annual Conference was hosted by the University of Free State, Bloemfontein, with the theme Biodiversity: past, present and future.

Rabia is a master’s student in plant science, conducting research on sub-Antarctic Marion Island, under the supervision of Dr Michelle Greve and Dr Peter le Roux. Her research is focused on understanding what drives the success of invasive plant species on sub-Antarctic islands. The sub-Antarctic islands are isolated areas of cold, wet and windy climatic conditions. Despite these harsh climatic conditions, invasion by alien species occurs.

According to Rabia she uses a trait based approach to address her research questions. This involves comparing the functional traits of native, non-invasive alien species (alien plants with a restricted distribution) and invasive alien species (alien plants that have a widespread distribution), to see if they differ in traits. If differences exist, they can be used to identify which plants are invasive or have a likelihood of becoming invasive in the future, based on what traits they possess. This will have important implications for managing established aliens on the islands and for reducing future invasions. Research is conducted on Marion Island during the April-May period.

From her last field work on the Island and data analysis that followed, Rabia was able to show that indeed invasive alien species differ from native and non-invasive alien species in some key traits. Rabia will be visiting Marion Island again this year to continue her field work by measuring more traits to acquire a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms for the invasion of sub-Antarctic islands by alien plant species.


- Author Martie Meyer

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