Genevieve Thompson

Research and Background

Despite the vast global impacts of invasive alien species, most introduced species fail to naturalize and/or spread when they are introduced into a new environment. Why some species succeed in becoming invasive, or are more invasive than other species, remains a central research question. Molecular ecological approaches can be used to identify genetic patterns that allow invaders to succeed in a new environment and potentially provide insight into effective management.

Broadly, my research interest is the molecular ecology of invasive plants. I am specifically interested in the interaction between invasive plants, their environment, and their human use that shape biogeographic and phylogenetic patterns in the introduced range.


My PhD research falls within the scope of a bigger “Molecular Ecology” project at the Centre for Invasion Biology that focuses on the fourteen major invasive Acacia species threatening water resources and native flora in the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa. These fourteen species are also found in several other regions around the world (Fig. 1).

Global distribution of nine major Acacia species

Figure 1 Global distribution of nine major Acacia species (A. baileyana, A. cyclops, A. dealbata, A. decurrens, A. longifolia, A. mearnsii, A. melanoxylon, A. pycnantha and A. saligna) classified as major invaders in South Africa (Nel et al., 2004) based on records from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF, 2010,

Acacia saligna

Figure 2 Acacia saligna

Paraserianthes lophantha

Figure 3 Paraserianthes lophantha

Australian acacias are a widely distributed group of woody invaders of economic importance. Currently, there are a large number of invasive acacia species (native to Australasia) that invade a wide range of habitats in South Africa. I am working on two woody invaders, Acacia saligna (Fig. 2), and Paraserianthes lophantha (Fig. 3, invasive legume in a genus closely related to Acacia). The areas each species invades, their environmental impact, and introduction histories differ substantially. This provides the opportunity to test several mechanisms believed to promote invasive success, such as the similarity between the native and introduced niche; or hybridisation that gives rise to fitter genotypes in the introduced range; or high propagule pressure due to multiple introductions. My Phd aims to use population genetics, sequence variation, and ecological niche modelling to provide insight into the global invasion dynamics of these two species.


I completed my undergraduate studies (B. Sc in Botany and Zoology with financial orientation) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, followed by a graduate degree (B. Sc honours in Botany and Plant Biotechnology) at the same institute. I am currently in my third year of my PhD at Stellenbosch University. My supervisors are Prof. Dave Richardson, Prof. Dirk Bellstedt, Dr Jaco Le Roux and Dr John Wilson.