Department of Botany & Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602 South Africa


Contact details:

Department of Botany & Zoology
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1
Matieland 7602
South Africa

Tel: +27 21 808-3158
Fax: +27 21 808-2405


Allan Ellis

Prof. Allan Ellis


Primary research interests

Floral diversification • plant-insect interactions • plant-insect diversity relationships • insect behaviour, especially as it relates to floral evolution • colour • dispersal evolution • the origin and maintenance of species • species coexistence • diversification of the Cape flora and fauna

Current focal research project

Floral diversification in beetle daisies
The beetle-daisy, Gorteria diffusa, exhibits remarkable floral diversity across its range in the succulent Karoo. We are examining mechanisms involved in the origin and maintenance of this diversity, including genetic, ecological and pollination (particularly sexual deception) drivers. In addition we are exploring genetic and behavioural variation in the bee-fly pollinator and codiversification between it and Gorteria, and in collaboration with Beverley Glover and Rachel Walker at Cambridge University we are looking at the genetic controls of the floral phenotype components that influence pollinator behaviour.

Floral adaptation for sleeping insects
Numerous flower visiting insect species in the Cape flora shelter inside closed flowers at night and during inclement weather. We are investigating the bedroom choices of insect species, asking whether and why some flowers are preferred as shelters and whether plants derive any fitness benefits from providing shelters. With John Terblanche and Susana Clusella-Trullas at Stellenbosch University.

Structural colour in flowers of the Cape flora
The existence and function of non-pigment based structural colours have long been known from animals, but have only very recently been investigated in plants. We are surveying Cape flowers for structural colour (iridescence and glossiness) and experimentally assessing its relevance/importance for pollination in natural systems. With Heather Whitney and Sean Rands at Bristol University

Diversification and evolution of specialization in Cape endemic restio-leafhoppers
Unlike the flora, the evolutionary histories of the Cape’s insects are largely unknown, as are relationships between floral and insect diversity. We are using the Restionaceae and their herbivores (particularly the bract mimicking leafhopper genus, Cephalelus) to investigate Cape insect-plant diversity and diversification patterns and the role of specialization in driving the patterns.

Postgrads / lab members


James Rodger (Post Doc) Project: Selfing in the Cape Flora

Marinus De Jager (PhD) Project: The role of pollinators in generating and maintaining floral polymorphisms within spotted daisies: phylogeographic and behavioural aspects.

Caroli De Waal (PhD) Project: The evolution of seed dispersal and dormancy in unpredictable and changing climates

Marguerite Blignaut (PhD, co-supervisor) Project: Epigenetic variation and its inheritance: – heritable adaptive variation or non-heritable driver of phenotypic plasticity in Pennisetum setaceum?

Tony Knowles (PhD, co-supervisor) Project: The ecological and financial feasibility of avoided deforestation and carbon sequestration activities in sub-Saharan Africa

Willem Augustyn (MSc): Project: Evolutionary drivers of temporal and spatial host-use patterns in restio leafhoppers Cephalelus Percheron (Cicadellidae: Cephalelini)

Hannes Wiese (MSc): Project: Endosymbionts as a mechanism of specialization of Cephalelus on Restionaceae hosts.

Ryan Kaye (Hons): Linking seed dispersal strategies and selection on floral traits in Oxalis.

Genevieve Theron (undergraduate research assistant)

Past postgrads:

Petra Ros (MSc, 2009, co-supervisor). Project: Pollinator driven floral variation in Tritoniopsis revoluta.

Employment and education

2010-               Senior Lecturer, Stellenbosch University
2007-2009:      Lecturer, Stellenbosch University
2005-2007:      Postdoctoral researcher, University of Kwazulu-Natal.
1999-2005:      PhD. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine
1997-1998:      Researcher, Institute for Plant Conservation, University of Cape Town
1995-1997:      Environmentalist, Mali
1991-1994:      BSc (Hons), University of Cape Town


Undergraduate: introduction to evolution, community ecology, field ecology techniques, angiosperm diversification
Honours: adaptive radiation • Cape radiation • evolutionary ecology



de Waal, C., Anderson, B., & Ellis, A. G. (2015). Relative density and dispersion pattern of two southern african asteraceae affect fecundity through heterospecific interference and mate availability, not pollinator visitation rate. Journal of Ecology, 

Gildenhuys, E., Ellis, A. G., Carroll, S. P., & Le Roux, J. J. (2015). Combining natal range distributions and phylogeny to resolve biogeographic uncertainties in balloon vines (cardiospermum, sapindaceae). Diversity and Distributions, 21(2), 163-174.


De Waal, C., Rodger, J. G., Anderson, B., & Ellis, A. G. (2014). Selfing ability and dispersal are positively related, but not affected by range position: A multispecies study on southern african asteraceae.Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27(5), 950-959.

Mavengere, N. R., Ellis, A. G., & Le Roux, J. J. (2014). Burkholderia aspalathi sp. nov., isolated from root nodules of the south african legume aspalathus abietina thunb. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 64(PART 6), 1906-1912.


Stångberg, F., Ellis, A. G., & Anderberg, A. A. (2013). Evolutionary relationships in gorteria: A re-evaluation. Taxon, 62(3), 537-549.


Ellis AG & SD Johnson 2012 Lack of floral constancy by bee fly pollinators: implications for ethological isolation in an African daisy. Behavioral Ecology doi:10.1093/beheco/ars019

Whitney HM, SA Rands. NJ Elton & AG Ellis. 2012. A technique for measuring petal gloss, with examples from the Namaqualand flora. Plos One 7 (1): e29476


Ellis AG and B Anderson. 2011. Pollinator mediated floral divergence in the absence of pollinator shifts. In: Patiny S (Ed). Evolution of plant-pollinator relationships. Cambridge University Press. P237-262.

Ros P, AG Ellis & B Anderson. 2011. Maintenance of sympatric floral tube-length variation in a Cape irid. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 104: 129-137.

De Jager ML, LL Dreyer & AG Ellis. 2011. Do pollinators influence the assembly of flower colours within plant communities? Oecologia. 166: 543-553.

Johnson SD, CI Peter, AG Ellis, E Boberg, C Botes; & T van der Niet. 2011. Diverse pollination systems of the twin-spurred orchid genus Satyrium in African grasslands. Plant Systematics and Evolution. 292: 95-103.

Ellis AG. 2011. Deserts as laboratories of evolution. South African Journal of Science 107: 9-10.

Whitney HM, Glower BJ, Walker R & AG Ellis 2011 The contribution of epidermal structure to flower colour in the South African flora. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 28 (4): 349-371

Duncan G & AG Ellis 2011. 723 Gorteria diffusa. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 28 (4): 341-348.

Duncan G & AG Ellis 2011. 716 Spiloxene capensis. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 28 (4): 260-268.


Ellis AG & SD Johnson. 2010. Floral mimicry enhances pollen export: the evolution of pollination by sexual deceit outside of the Orchidaceae. American Naturalist. 176 (5): E143-E151.

Ellis AG & SD Johnson. 2010. Gender differences in the effects of floral spur length manipulation on fitness in a hermaphrodite orchid. International Journal of Plant Sciences 171(9): 1010-1019.

Anderson B, JS Terblanche & AG Ellis. 2010. Predictable patterns of trait mismatches between interacting plants and insects. BMC Evolutionary Biology 10:204.


Thomas MM, BJ Glover, AG Ellis , V. Savolainen and PJ Rudall. 2009. Development of a complex floral trait: The pollinator-attracting petal spots of the beetle daisy, Gorteria diffusa (Asteraceae). American Journal of Botany 96(12): 2184-2196.

de Merxem DG, B Borremans, ML de Jager, T Johnson, M Jooste, P Ros, RD Zenni, AG
Ellis & B Anderson. 2009. The importance of flower visitors not predicted by floral syndromes. South African Journal of Botany 75: 660-667.

Ellis AG & SD Johnson. 2009. The evolution of floral variation without pollinator shifts in Gorteria diffusa (Asteraceae). American Journal of Botany 96(4): 793-801.


Dumri K, L Seipold, J Schmidt, G Gerlach, S Dötterl, AG Ellis & LA Wessjohann. 2008. Non-volatile floral oils of Diascia spp. (Scrophulariaceae). Phytochemistry 69: 1372-1383.


Ellis AG , AE Weis & B Gaut. 2007. The spatial scale of local adaptation and population genetic structure in a miniature succulent, Argyroderma pearsonii. New Phytologist 174 (4): 904-914.

Johnson SD, AG Ellis & S Dotterl. 2007. Specialization for pollination by beetles and wasps: the role of lollipop hairs and fragrance in Satyrium microrrhynchum (Orchidaceae). American Journal of Botany 94 (1): 47-55.


Ellis AG, AE Weis & B Gaut. 2006. Evolutionary radiation of “stone plants” in the genus Argyroderma: unravelling the effects of landscape, habitat and flowering time. Evolution 60(1): 39-55.

Ellis AG & AE Weis. 2006. Coexistence and differentiation of “flowering stones”: the role of local adaptation to soil microenvironment. Journal of Ecology 94: 322-335.

von Hase A, RM Cowling & AG Ellis. 2006. Petal movement in Cape wildflowers protects pollen from exposure to moisture. Plant Ecology 184: 75-84.

Franke DM, AG Ellis, M Dharjwa, M Freshwater, M Fujikawa, A Padron & AE Weis. 2006. A steep cline in flowering time for Brassica rapa in southern California: Population-level variation in the field and greenhouse. Intl. J of Plant Sciences 167(1): 83-92.

Before 2005

Desmet PG, RM Cowling, AG Ellis & RL Pressey. 2002. Integrating biosystematic data into conservation planning: perspectives from Southern Africa’s succulent Karoo. Systematic Biology 51(2): 317-331.

Ellis AG & SD Johnson. 1999. Do pollinators determine hybridization patterns in sympatric Satyrium (Orchidaceae) species? Plant Systematics and Evolution 219: 137-150.

Cowling RM, RL Pressey, AT Lombard, PG Desmet and AG Ellis. 1999. From representation to persistence: requirements for a sustainable system of conservation areas in the species-rich mediterranean-climate desert of southern Africa. Diversity and Distributions 5: 51-71.

Desmet PG, AG Ellis and RM Cowling. 1998. Speciation in the Mesembryanthemaceae. ALOE 35 (2): 38-43.

Ellis AG and JJ Midgley. 1996. A new plant-animal mutualism involving a plant with sticky leaves and a resident hemipteran insect. Oecologia 106: 478-481.

Johnson SD, AG Ellis, PJ Carrick, A Swift, S van Rensburg, N Horner and WJ Bond. 1993. Moth pollination and rhythms of advertisement and reward in Crassula fascicularis (Crassulaceae). South African Journal of Botany 59(5): 511-513.