#01 2023

NRF-SAEON recognises rising stars in the South African Botany landscape

By Dr Dave Thompson, Biodiversity Scientist, SAEON Ndlovu Node

In January this year, the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) held their 48th annual meeting under the theme Plants, Health and Prosperity. The meeting united international and especially local plant scientists and students to discuss current research in the broad fields of Plant Physiology, Pollination Biology, Plant Systematics and Taxonomy; Ethnobotany and Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and Ecology and Conservation Biology. 

The conference was hosted by the Department of Biodiversity in the Faculty of Science and Agriculture at the University of Limpopo. This is the first time that the university has hosted this event, and the meeting programme put together by the local organising committee (LOC) paid tribute to the cultural and botanical riches on offer in the province.

Delegates at the 48th annual meeting of the South African Association of Botanists, hosted by the University of Limpopo at the Ranch Resort and Conservancy

SAAB has always had the development of postgraduate students at its core and, apart from offering competitive bursaries to students pursuing their studies under the mentorship of association members, rewards scientific excellence displayed by young researchers presenting their work at the annual conference. As with previous years, the student awards at the 2023 meeting were tightly contested by the large contingent of young scientists.

This year, SAEON augmented the student awards by sponsoring copies of the book Photographic guide to the wild flowers of the Limpopo Province for excellence in several broad categories at the meeting. The field guide was co-published as part of the Strelitzia series by SAEON and SANBI in late 2021. Book author Sylvie Kremer-Kohne is a SAAB member, Limpopo resident, past SAEON student and long-time SAEON Ndlovu Node collaborator.

Based on adjudication by the meeting LOC, SAEON book prizes were awarded to the postgraduates below. Book prizes were also awarded to Dr Elnaeim Ali, Ms Khethani Rasikhinya, Mr Goitseone Sedimo, Ms Lanja Oosthuizen and Mr Charl Clarke for their poster presentations. Awards were presented at the gala dinner by Prof. Mamokone Mahlo, head of the LOC, and SAEON scientist Dr Dave Thompson.

SAEON applauds the efforts of all student presenters at the meeting, and especially congratulates the young awardees for their contribution to advancing botanical research in South Africa.

SAEON sponsored copies of a recently published wild flower identification guide co-published by SAEON and SANBI, as student prizes for outstanding contribution in several botanical fields.

The best young botanist award went to Mr Kaylan Reddy, a PhD candidate in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University. His oral presentation was titled Mass spectrometry metabolomics and feature-based molecular networking reveals population specific chemistry in some species of the Sceletium genus.

Mr Timothy Hall, current MSc candidate from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, received the award for best MSc and best contribution in the field of Pollination Biology for his oral presentation titled Who’s your daddy? Paternity analysis in the African baobab.

Dr Elnaeim Ali, a postdoctoral researcher in the Plant Biotechnology Research Group at the University of the Western Cape, won for his contribution in the field of Plant Physiology for his poster, Identification of genetic determinants of heat stress tolerance in sorghum using comparative proteomics.

Ms Khethani Rasikhinya from the Department of Biodiversity at the University of Limpopo received the award for the best Ethnobotany poster, Evaluation of the antifungal and antioxidant activity of the potential plant extract against the human fungal pathogens. This showcased her 2022 Honours research.

The book prize for the best poster in the field of Plant Systematics and Taxonomy, titled Morphometric analysis in Nemesia (Scrophulariaceae), was awarded to MSc student Mr Goitseone Sedimo from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State.

The best contribution in the field of Plant Ecology and Conservation was awarded jointly to Ms Lanja Oosthuizen and Mr Charl Clarke from the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Development at North-West University (NWU), who co-authored a poster which shared results from both of their Honours research projects. The poster was titled Ecological restoration using geophytes: A transplant experiment in a disturbed dolomite grassland.

Lanja Oosthuizen will be continuing aspects of this work for her MSc research from 2023, under the supervision of Prof. Stefan Siebert (NWU) and Dr Dave Thompson (SAEON).

Editor’s note

Some 20 years ago, SAEON’s Dr Dave Thompson, then a young student, was the recipient of the best poster and best PhD awards at this meeting, and was crowned best young botanist three years running, a feat that has never been matched (in fact, no one else has even won it twice).

His SAAB awards were as follows:

2002 – Best oral presentation by a PhD student

2003 – Best oral presentation by a PhD student; Best poster in Ecology; Young Botanist award

2004 – Young Botanist award

2005 – Young Botanist award