Entomologist wins 2019 Humboldt Alumni Award

Posted on August 23, 2019

Dr Abdullahi Yusuf, a researcher in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria, was recently awarded a 2019 Humboldt Alumni Award for innovative networking initiatives, conferred on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth.

In the spirit of the great polymath, this award recognises proposals that address Alexander von Humboldt’s relevance today and encourage sustainable academic and cultural links between Germany and the home countries of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellowship and award programme alumni, as well as specifically promoting networking in the respective countries and regions.

‘I was delighted to win this award as the Humboldt Alumni Award for networking is a highly competitive grant open to all 29 000 alumni worldwide. It also came shortly after the foundation awarded me a six-month tandem research stay fellowship, which will allow me to spend the time together with an accompanying junior researcher in Germany. This award provides me the opportunity to make use of the networks I have established here on the continent and in Germany by providing a platform where long-term collaborations and support for young researchers will be fostered, in line with the Humboldt Foundation’s vision,’ Dr Yusuf said on receiving this award.

His research interests revolve around studying behaviour and chemical communication in insects and the evolution of such, especially in social insects (ants, bees and termites). ‘I use techniques like chromatography, behavioural assays, molecular ecology and mathematical modeling to answer pertinent evolutionary questions in these model organisms. My current research projects include studying the evolution of pheromones in African honey bees, chemical communication in the beehive, molecular underpinnings of pheromone synthesis, genetic diversity and population genetics in honey bees. I also work on developing semiochemical-based vector and pest management strategies for disease vectors like tsetse flies – the vector of African sleeping sickness – and some horticultural pests through exploiting their chemical communication. I also work and have an interest in cultural entomology, where I am looking at edible insects, their diversity and sustainable use.’

As stated in the citation for the Humboldt Alumni Award, ‘Dr Yusuf wants to draw attention to the state of, and changes in insect populations. With his initiative, “Behavioural and ecological principles of biotic interactions in insects”, he is creating a network that will aggregate knowledge on biodiversity and the state of ecosystems in times of climate change. Established researchers from Germany, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria will work together with students in the context of events and virtual workshops. Moreover, it is planned that the network will be connected with other relevant research communities such as the African Association of Insect Scientists and the Entomological Society of Southern Africa.’

He is no stranger to awards and fellowships, having previously been awarded a DAAD PhD Fellowship, a Commonwealth Distance Learning MSc Fellowship, an NRF-DST Innovation Postdoctoral Fellowship, an NRF-DST Research Career Advancement Fellowship, and a Georg Forster Fellowship for Experiences Researchers (HERMES) by the Humboldt foundation.

Dr Yusuf has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and participated in more than 20 international conferences and meetings.

- Author Martie Meyer
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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