Kiosha Bhikraj

Background

Invasive Arundo donax

Invasive Arundo donax.
© Photo credit: Kiosha Bhikraj

In 2016, I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree with majors in genetics and microbiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus. At the end of 2017, I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in conservation genetics, awarded Cum Laude. My honours study focused on the genotyping of an invasive weed species called Arundo donax. This study has contributed towards a larger project that was started through the collaboration with the Agricultural Research Council: Invasive Weeds Division. The preliminary results from the study provided some baseline information for the potential and future application for biological control of South African A. donax populations. I am currently pursuing my Masters in conservation genetics at UKZN, with a research project focusing on the population genetics of the invasive weed Arundo donax in South Africa.

Current research

Arundo donax has a severe impact on South Africa’s biodiversity and water resources, therefore this weed species has been targeted for biological control. To improve the chances of success of a biological control program for A. donax in South Africa and the development of effective biological control agents, important baseline knowledge of the genetic variation and geographic origin of weed populations in the recipient country (i.e. South Africa) is critical. This study focuses on the analysis of genetic variation within the South African A. donax population and will utilise a phylogenetic approach to estimate the number of introductions, the geographic origin and the pathway of spread used by A. donax in the country. Specific genetic knowledge of the South African A. donax populations will be critical, as it will allow for identification of specific areas to search for natural enemies that could be used as biological control agents in South Africa.

Dense Arundo donax stand along the Foxhillspruit Canal in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg

Dense Arundo donax stand along the Foxhillspruit Canal in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg.
© Photo credit: Kiosha Bhikraj.