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Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology - Research Interests and Current Projects

Biodiversity may be defined as the variety of forms of living organisms at various levels.  Conservation Biology is the study of how we can prevent species and habitats from being lost while still maintaining sustainable human societies. The Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BCB) at the UWC teaches and trains in these fields to promote an understanding of conservation.  The department thus teaches at an ecosystem level, approaching the disciplines of Botany and Zoology in an integrated manner.  Within the BCB department, nine areas of specialisation exist.  These include: African Amphibian Studies (investigating the diversity of African amphibians); Offshore Marine Biology (examining patterns and processes in pelagic and offshore benthic marine systems around southern Africa); Chelonian Biodiversity and Conservation (conserving chelonian diversity in Africa through ecological and taxonomic research); Plant Ecophysiology (how plants function in relation to their environment); Southern African Angiosperm Systematics (taxonomic and phylogenetic studies of selected indigenous and invasive plants); Behavioural Ecology (the roles of ecological and sexual selection in promoting biodiversity); Medicinal Plant Use (identification and characterization of South African medicinal plants); Marine Benthic Biodiversity (understanding biodiversity and zonation patterns of seaweeds and molluscs on rocky shores); and Landscape and Social Ecology (interactions between people and their environment). Each of these areas of specialisation is further subdivided into 2-3 thematic programmes that focus more specifically on a particular research question. 

Prof Gavin W. Maneveldt


Marine Benthic Biodiversity is one of several areas of research specialisation in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the UWC.  Within this specialisation are two thematic programmes.  The first of these programmes (Coralline Algal Biodiversity) comprises an international project focusing on the global taxonomy, systematics and ecology of non-geniculate (encrusting) coralline red algae.  Coralline algae are vitally important both ecologically and economically and the aim here is to document the biodiversity of the planet’s non-geniculate coralline species with a view to understanding their role in a changing climate.  The second programme (Rocky Shore Ecology) investigates the role of molluscs in controlling intertidal species distribution patterns on rocky shores.  The ultimate aim of this project is the documentation of intertidal marine species diversity for the public and for education.

Current Projects

Coralline Algal Biodiversity – An international programme focusing on the taxonomy, systematics and ecology of non-geniculate coralline red algae.

Rocky Shore Ecology – A programme investigating the role of molluscan grazers in controlling intertidal seaweed distribution patterns.

Integrated Aquaculture – A collaborative programme testing the benefits of seaweeds and their products in integrated aquaculture.

Prof Alan Channing


African amphibians molecular systematics, taxonomy and life history strategies

Current Projects
Molecular phylogeny and revision of the taxonomy of African riverfrogs.
Genetics of the invasive Guttural Toad. A collaborative programme.
Isolation of Banded Stream Frog populations on the Cape Fold Mountains.
Effects of human habitation on amphibian diversity in northern Zambia.

Prof Lincoln Raitt

Plant Ecophysiology:

Plant mineral nutrition: a collaborative programme investigating the roles of mineral nutrients, salinity, and non-essential elements (including heavy metals) in plants.

Plant water relations: a programme examining the effect of water quality on plants, and plants on water quality.

Plant stress physiology: a programme investigating the use of plants as environmental monitors.

Dr. Vanessa Couldridge


My research interests focus on the roles of ecological and sexual selection in promoting biodiversity, using insects and fish as model species.

Current Projects:


Mate choice and speciation: Intra- and interspecific variation in bladder grasshoppers (Orthoptera; Pneumoridae)

Prof Mark J. Gibbons

Gibbons1.jpgOffshore Marine Biology is one of several areas of research specialisation in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the UWC.  This study area includes both studies in the pelagos and the benthos.  The department has networked extensively across the world in order to develop local expertise in the taxonomy of a number of marine invertebrate taxa including bryozoans, sponges, polychaetes, nematodes and foraminifera, as well as jellyfish.  All of these taxa are relatively difficult to identify, but they are nevertheless important ecological components of the systems in which they occur.  Within the specialisation of Offshore Marine Biology are two broad ranging thematic programmes.  The first of these programmes (Communities and Ecosystems) examines the factors responsible for driving temporal and spatial patterns in marine species diversity, and the scales at which they operate.  

The second programme (Species) comprises interdisciplinary studies on the modern taxonomy, biology and ecology of functionally important marine organisms.  Within these programmes, projects are moulded to suit the preferences and abilities of different students.

Current Projects

Laboratory studies on the growth and development of Chrysaora polyps
Ecology and biology of Namibian jellyfish
Soft bottom communities in offshore waters of Namibia
Taxonomy and population genetics of regional jellyfish
Ecology of marine zooplankton in the SW Indian Ocean
Ecology of the bearded goby, Sufflogobius bibarbatus

 Dr Stephen Boatwright

Boatwright1.jpgSouthern African Angiosperm Systematics- A collaborative programme dedicated to taxonomic and phylogenetic studies of selected indigenous and invasive plants.

Current Projects

Taxonomy and Systematics – A collaborative programme documenting the S.A. asphodeloids, legumes and others.

Nama Karoo Flora – A collaborative programme documenting the floristic diversity and evolution of the Nama- Karoo.

Dr Richard Knight


Sustainable development and Community‑based projects Research to provide greater sustainability within rural and agricultural communities and selected industries (e.g. South African Commercial Forestry)

Biodiversity Information management Explores biodiversity data and research needs, Geographical Information Systems, remote sensing, systematic landuse planning, 3D virtualisations, use of simulated environments (Second Life), curriculum development and flexible learning systems

Dr Adriaan Engelbrecht

Knight1.jpgEmerging infective Zoonosis and bio invasion risks in urban areas across southern Africa: A study focussed at the human-rodent interface

Current projects
A collaborative programme: Chromosome painting and recombination in vlei rats, and also chromosome painting in southern African mongoose
A collaborative programme: Phylogeography of selected taxa in a Biodiversity Hotspot

Prof Albertus Smit

Knight1.jpgCurrent Research
The work on seawater temperature, above, has added a new dimension to my research, and ongoing studies are looking at consequences for inshore biogeographic patterns along the Southern African coast, particularly in the light of climate change.

Related to this, a newly funded project (2014 – 2016) will look at kelp ecosystems that respond to human-induced climate change and climate variability all over the world (collaborating with Prof. John Bolton, UCT; Dr. Rob Anderson, Seaweed Unit, DAFF; and Dr. Thomas Wernberg, the University of Western Australia). 

In most regions kelp forests are retreating due to ocean warming and human pressure, while in South Africa, uniquely, early evidence suggests that kelp ecosystems might be expanding, possibly due to cooling from increased upwelling. The project will contribute to a number of parallel projects which we are members of, including an Australia-South Africa study on genetics and climate change in Ecklonia radiata, the global KEEN project on kelps and climate change, and a project on molecular systematics of kelps.
Other ongoing research includes a project on the systematic conservation planning of the KwaZulu-Natal offshore marine environment (with Dr. Jean Harris and Mrs. Tamsyn Livingstone at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, in collaboration with Prof. Atte Moilanen at the University of Helsinki, Finland); research on the distribution of microplastics in the marine environment and consequences for fish (with Dr. David Glassom and Mr. Trishan Naidoo at the UKZN); and using stable isotopes of N to trace the source and distribution of anthropogenic N sources along rocky shores of KZN (with Ms. Shivanee Pillay at the UKZN).
issues related to the propagation of vegetables, the quality thereof in terms of being fit for human consumption and, informing the affect communities about the research outcomes to encourage sustainable development.

Dr Anusha Rajkaran

​​Her research focus area is on emergent and submerged macrophyte dynamics and functioning, estuarine functioning and habitat use with a particular focus mangrove forests

harvested poles.jpg

Current Project:

Ecological functioning of temperate mangrove forests

Long term monitoring of growth and environmental conditions in mangrove forests along a latitudinal gradient

Measuring the importance of habitat connectivity and complexity to the nursery function of estuarine habitats

Dr Bryan Maritz

 ​​Snake ecology and conservation are key components of the research in our department. Our work seeks to understand the functional roles of snakes in African ecosystems. We have several ongoing projects that address questions regarding snake natural history, ecology, communities, and conservation. Our interests and questions span a number of study systems including active study sites within the fynbos, nama karoo, and savanna biomes. We utilize a number of approaches to collect the data required to answer these questions including intensive sampling in the field using drift fence arrays, artificial cover objects, and radio-telemetry. Other projects are exclusively computational and seek to model the distributions of species or to analyse citizen science data.

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