How South Africa’s botanical diversity is conserved in the context of global climate change and biological invasions is likely to require customised approaches for different plant groups.

This was one of the findings of a groundbreaking Masters thesis earned summa cum laude by Environmental Science student Ms Nikara Mahadeo at a recent graduation ceremony of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

Mahadeo’s dissertation investigated the relationship between the length of flowering periods and the distribution ranges of plant species in eastern South Africa. She was supervised by two recognised researchers in the field of biogeography, Professor S Proches and Dr S Ramdhani.

Several horticultural popular plant groups such as red hot pokers and arum lilies were included in the study. Mahadeo found that in four cases there was a significant correlation between flowering and distribution ranges which led to the conclusion that both range size and the length of the flowering season are the result of numerous factors acting jointly, which differ across plant groups.

Her work is important in the context of climate change and biological invasions, two factors that are predicted to have dramatic impacts on South Africa’s botanical diversity. Her study suggests that the conservation of plant diversity in the face of global change will have to consider the complexity of flowering patterns, and it is likely that customised approaches will be necessary for different plant groups.

Mahadeo received a University of KwaZulu-Natal Postgraduate Scholarship, NRF Scarce Skills Scholarship and the Erasmus Mundus Sapient Scholarship. Mahadeo said she was fortunate to undertake the six-month Erasmus Mundus Masters Exchange Scholarship at Radboud University in The Netherlands.

On her achievement, she said: ‘I can attribute my success in completing the degree to hard work and perseverance. My supervisors have encouraged me to publish my research work through journals and conferences which I am eager to pursue,’ she said.

Dr Ramdhani described Mahadeo’s study as a “first for South Africa”: ‘The effects of the length of flowering periods on the distribution range size of species are poorly investigated, and Ms Mahadeo’s study was a first for South Africa. She managed to complete her study in the minimum prescribed time despite spending six months in the Netherlands,’ Ramdhani said.

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