A bridge builder of note – even into the past

From invasive plants clogging up rivers to ecological restoration, from Karoo and fynbos veld to palaeontology, bulbs and early man – these are some of the diverse topics that energise and interest plant ecologist Prof Karen Esler. “My whole career is marked by a collaborative approach, working on the interface of different disciplines,” explains Prof…

Stop bugging the bugs

by Pia Addison, Stellenbosch University Just under one million insect species have been identified on the planet. Global insect species diversity makes up more than half of all other species diversity on earth. Estimates of actual species richness range from a realistic four to six million to an extravagant 80 million species. But insects are…

J-bay shark ‘attack’ reminds us we share the ocean

Leah Gibbs, University of Wollongong In the wake of the spectacular footage of champion surfer Mick Fanning’s recent shark encounter in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, and his good fortune in emerging without physical injury, sharks are back on the radar. Many people are probably scratching their heads wondering how we can avoid such dangerous incidents.…

Jozi’s Parktown prawn: evolution at its best

Marcus Byrne, University of the Witwatersrand South Africa’s notorious Parktown prawn gets its name from the leafy Johannesburg suburb where it has flourished and spread since migrating to the city from the moist eastern forests of the country’s lowveld escarpment. It is a large insect with a reddish colour and bristling legs, mouthparts and antennae,…

Evolution Day – the SciBraai round-up

Darwin apparently described South Africa as dull and uninteresting when he first visited, but we know today, thanks to many a #SAscienceHero, that SA’s evolutionary history is anything but boring. Below is our round-up of Evolution Day, hosted by Wits on 20 June 2015. Prof Francis Thackeray says Charles Darwin called SA a dull and un-interesting…

Fast, cheap calories may make city birds fat and sick

by Phoebe Barnard via The Conversation Change. It can creep up on us so gently that we hardly even notice it. Yet the pace of environmental change in the world’s cities and landscapes, against the backdrop of the past millennium, is quite dizzying. This past century has seen rampant growth in urbanisation, agriculture, mines, factories,…

Who’s who in Johannesburg’s zoo

Maintaining a zoo is not only a balancing act, it contributes importantly to the world we live in. There’s a science factor to it too, writes Sarah Wild of the Mail and Guardian. It informs the activities of the zoo, from what the animals eat to the habitats designed for them. It sounds like a breakfast…

Photo: The Conversation

Species without boundaries: a new way to map our origins

by Francis Thackeray, University of the Witwatersrand More than 145 years ago, Charles Darwin argued that Africa was the continent from which humans evolved in prehistory. We now know he was right. We have the evidence to prove from prehistoric remains that our distant human relatives go back at least seven million years. Certainly, the fossil…

Silent giants unlock story of climate change

Researchers are using baobab trees to learn about climate conditions that prevailed thousands of years ago. Engorged ancient baobab trunks could tell the story of climate change in South Africa over the past thousand years, according to a paper published in the journal PlosONE. Adansonia digitata, a baobab endemic to Southern Africa, can provide this…