Leader of UP’s Social Insects Research Group, Prof Pirk, hopes to build wider research network after his election as Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences

Posted on September 30, 2020

Professor Christian Pirk, leader of the Social Insects Research Group (SIRG) in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria (UP), was recently elected as a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS).

 “It is a great honour to be elected to the African Academy and to receive recognition for my work, which would not have been possible without an international network of collaborators,” Prof Pirk said about his achievement.

“I hope this will allow me to build a wider research network, especially in Africa, in an endeavour to benefit my students and colleagues in their search for African answers to global questions. What made my election even more special, was the fact that it happened in a year in which three of my PhD students from three different African countries will be graduating from UP,” he added.

Speaking about his work, Prof Pirk explained that he was particularly interested in the reproductive division of labour in social insects – especially honeybees – and the potential resulting conflicts between members of an insect colony, and in how these conflicts are resolved. In this context, his research is focused on the effects of nutrition on reproduction and – in a broader context – the nutritional requirements of honeybees as a superorganism. The research conducted by the SIRG on the effects of pesticides on the well-being of bees contributed to the first comprehensive report on neonicotinoids in the African agricultural context, which was published by the InterAcademy Partnership under the leadership of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the Leopoldina (German Academy).

The other focus is on the chemical ecology of social insects and disease vectors, for example mosquitoes or flies, especially on the fascinating ability of Cape honeybees to reproduce even in the presence of the queen by smelling like her. Research in this field was initiated by Professor Robin Crewe, who mentored Prof Pirk when he first arrived at UP as a postdoctoral fellow. Over the years, this research has contributed to making their laboratory one of the two leading laboratories in Africa in the field of chemical ecology.

Prof Pirk has received a C1 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and has an h-index of 29. He has also received a Publons Peer Review Award for being in the top 1% in the field of plant and animal sciences from 2017 to 2019.

The AAS is a non-aligned, non-political, non-profit pan-African organisation whose vision is to see lives on the African continent transformed through science. The AAS fellowship includes individuals who have reached the highest level of excellence in their fields of expertise and have contributed to the advancement of those fields on the African continent. AAS Fellows are elected by members of the AAS by following a rigorous review process based on the candidates’ achievements, which include their publication records, innovations, leadership roles and contributions to society.

- Author Martie Meyer

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