Three students from the University of Pretoria (UP) were recognised for their excellent presentations at the third DST/NRF National Global Change Conference hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban in December 2016.
Ms Rabia Mathakutha from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences won the award for the best poster with her poster titled Invasive species differ in key functional traits from native and non-invasive alien plant species on Marion Island. Ms Mathakutha's research focuses on fully understanding which factors have allowed invasive species to become successful by comparing the functional traits of invasive plant species with those of indigenous and non-invasive alien plant species on Sub-Antarctic Marion Island. She hopes that through this research she will be able to inform invasion risk and reduce the possibility of future invasions. Ms Mathakutha will continue with her studies for a master's degree at UP this year.
Ms Morgan Raath, a PhD student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, was the runner-up for the best talk delivered at the conference for her presentation titled 'Can positive biotic interactions mediate climate-driven range shifts? A case study from the sub-Antarctic'. By using Azorella selago, a widespread cushion plant (cushion plants are compact, low-growing, hemispherical plants), and the rest of the vascular flora of Marion Island as a model system, Ms Raath aims to establish whether fine-scale facilitative interactions scale up to shape the distribution of plant species.
Ms Malebo Makunyane from the School of Health Systems and Public Health was the runner-up in the oral paper category. For her presentation titled 'Increase in apparent temperature (Tapp) and respiratory disease deaths in Cape Town during 2006-2010', she used time-stratified case-crossover and time-series analysis to examine the association between respiratory disease deaths and apparent temperature. As part of the final year of her master's degree research, Ms Makunyane plans to expand her study to include five more South African cities that are located in different Köppen Climatic zones, where she will also look at the non-linear relationship between cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease mortality and climate change.
The main purpose of the biennial Global Change Conference is to bring together the diverse global change research community in South Africa to share recent progress across the broad scope of the global change programme, with a special focus on the work done by postgraduate students. In addition to providing students with a forum to present their research, it creates opportunities for greater transdisciplinary and inter-institutional research collaboration that will ultimately help us to overcome some of the key challenges we face as a country and a society, improve our understanding of our planet in the face of climate change, reduce our impact on our environment by adapting the way we live, and to be innovative to ensure sustainability.