Erika Opperman

Background

I graduated with a BSc (Biodiversity and Ecology) in 2014 from Stellenbosch University. I then completed my BScHons (Biodiversity and Ecology) under the supervision of Prof Michael Cherry and Dr Nox Makunga, studying natural resource usage in the Pirie forest of the Eastern Cape and its effect on the populations of the tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus). Currently I am in my first year of Masters working on the Drosophilidae under Prof John Terblanche and Dr Minette Karsten.

Current research

For my Masters project I intend on studying the traits and mechanisms of several Drosophila species and how they pertain to establishment in novel environments.

Establishment success of invasive species depends, among others, on the traits of the environmental niche. A paper by Duncan et al (2014) show that environmental heterogeneity can change the nature of the relationship between establishment success and founding population sizes in insect invasions. I thus intend to use a model system of several Drosophila species and to then in the laboratory characterize several traits of the environmental niche including but not limited to heat and cold tolerance, desiccation and starvation resistance, and traits of life-history (longevity, fecundity) in order to determine whether these traits are associated with geographic distribution and subsequent establishment success.

Additionally, I intend to employ mesoscosm trails in order to determine if species with broader niches are more successful in establishment under sub- or super-optimal conditions in novel environments.

Lastly, I will test the effect of future climate change on insect populations by mimicking climate change occurring at slow and fast rates in the laboratory.