Ms Jacqueline Raw’s novel approaches to her Biology research project and an exceptionally smart experimental design have earned her a Bachelor of Science Honours degree summa cum laude, a prestigious Innovation Scholarship from the National Research Foundation and a best presentation award.

The Honours programme consisted of five coursework modules and one research project module. The coursework covered a range of concepts and skills required in marine science, while Raw’s research component consisted of an ecological study on an invasive gastropod mollusc in the St Lucia Estuary in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) World Heritage site.

The project, which ran over a year, included experiments performed in the laboratory and in the field. Raw’s project, "Chemical Cues Released by an Alien Invasive Aquatic Gastropod Drive its Invasion Success", used an experimental approach to measure behavioural responses of native gastropods to the presence of chemical cues released by the invasive species.

The results of the project were presented at the South African Society of Aquatic Sciences Conference held in Cape St Francis and the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal (EKZN) Wildlife Symposium. The project also won the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal’s Award for the Best Conservation Science Student Presentation at the 2012 Symposium on Contemporary Conservation Practice in Howick organised by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and sponsored by The Wildlands Conservation Trust.

Renzo Perissinotto, who supervised Raw’s work, said the project earned Raw an “exceptional mark” in the Honours programme. ‘Using novel approaches and an exceptionally smart experimental design, Ms Raw was able to provide evidence for interactions driven by chemical cues between a non-native invasive gastropod and several gastropods native to South Africa,’ he said.

Raw is currently registered for a Master of Science degree on the Westville campus in the School of Life Sciences. According to Perissinotto, her continuation of the study undertaken for the Honours degree has led to a manuscript being accepted in the prestigious open access journal PLoS ONE.

Raw said she was passionate about research and intends to make it her career. She also had high praise for her academic supervisors. ‘I have had continuous support and encouragement from both my supervisors through the challenges of the academic programme and the duration of the project. The quality of the final thesis and the paper currently in press is a direct product of their commitment and acceptance of only my best efforts,’ she said.

author email : Rajpall@ukzn.ac.za