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Jennifer Lee, a post doctoral associate at the Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B), has recently been awarded a prestigious Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Fellowship for her work investigating Antarctic biodiversity, to be undertaken in collaboration with researchers at the British Antarctic Survey.

The SCAR Fellowship scheme is highly competitive and open to early career scientists from the more than 30 member nations of SCAR. The programme is designed to encourage the active involvement of early career scientists and engineers in Antarctic scientific research, and to strengthen international capacity and cooperation in Antarctic research. Jennifer is the first scientist from a South African Institute to receive the award. Through her PhD at the CIB Jennifer has travelled to Antarctica on several occasions with the South African Antarctic Program. The fellowship will ensure that she can continue with this work.

The funding will facilitate Jenniferís work which uses molecular tools in a phylogeographic approach to investigate the existence of refugia for arthropods in the Antarctic. Her work will examine a range of cryptostigmatid mites on the Antarctic Peninsula and the sub-Antarctic island, South Georgia, to understand the genetic structure across populations and the extent to which these organisms exist as metapopulations Although only tiny (often less than 1 mm) these animals are some of the largest in Antarctic terrestrial environments and are likely to play an important role in ecosystem functioning. By linking molecular data with information on human movement patterns in the region, insights can be gained about the role of humans as vectors for transporting mites and other organisms beyond their natural population range. In this way, this research will contribute to our understanding of what is an effective population unit and so facilitate conservation planning for terrestrial Antarctica.