Sophia C. Turner

Background

I began my studies with a more practical approach by acquiring a Diploma in Nature Conservation (2012-2014) through the University of South Africa (UNISA). I then completed an Advanced and Post Graduate Diploma in Nature conservation in 2015 and 2016 respectively, through the same institution.

Working for Iimbovane Outreach Project, at the C·I·B, I fostered an interest in community ecology and long term biodiversity studies. In 2016 I was a field assistant for Dr Kalwij, which sparked an interest in his work in the Drakensberg Mountains. I then embarked on an MSc under his supervision as well as that of Prof Karen Esler at Stellenbosch University.

Current research

Despite the recent influx of research on alpine invaders, a lack of reliable baseline data has inhibited long-term studies on exotic community dynamics in mountain ecosystems. An exception exists in the Afromontane grasslands of Drakensberg, South Africa.

For the first chapter of my MSC I investigated the change in exotic plant species richness and composition in and adjacent to a mountain pass road verge over a 10-year period. I also explored the role of montane road verges in exotic species establishment.

It is often assumed that plants with a greater diversity within their traits are more successful invaders. I plan on testing this by analysing key traits of all exotic plants along the Sani Pass to see if those that managed to spread into the natural area and higher in altitude have a greater diversity within their traits than those that showed no range expansion. I also plan on collecting indigenous plant traits to analyse whether successful invaders share a common suite of traits with indigenous species or fill a new niche.

The purpose of this project is to gain insights into the ecological patterns and processes underpinning the relationship between indigenous and exotic flora.