Meet our Postgrads

NVT proudly hosts postgraduate student from several universities around the world. Not only does this give our student great fieldwork opportunities for their degrees but it adds important research capacity on several of our long term research projects.

Minke Witteveen (January 2018 - present)

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Minke was born in Durban and grew up in Westville. She was child who loved playing in the garden rather than with Barbie dolls, wore shorts rather than dresses, and spent copious hours reading. Not much has changed. She moved to Plettenberg Bay in 2013 to pursue her MSc through the University of Cape Town under Prof. Peter Ryan, co-supervised by Dr. Mark Brown of Nature’s Valley Trust. At the completion of her MSc entitled: The influence of a changing environment on the breeding biology and diet of Kelp Gulls (Larus dominicanus vetula) in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, Minke took a break from academia. Minke is now registered at Nelson Mandela University under Prof. Amanda Lombard, co-supervised by Dr. Mark Brown, and Dr. Gwenith Penry. Her thesis is currently titled: An assessment of the ecological sustainability of the boat-based whale-watching industry along the Garden Route.

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Louise Bestea (January - June 2018)

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Louise has always been fascinated by animal behaviour and Africa and as far as she can remember she has always wanted them to be part of her life. She dreamt to later become a zoologist who will observe wildlife in the middle of savannah environments. After graduating from a Bachelor of Science (Jean Monnet University, France) she started a MSc degree in ethology and ecology, which has confirmed her passion for the fauna and has developed her strong interest with evolution and plants, especially plant-pollinator interactions.

In 2017 she did a 2-month internship in a lab (CRCA, Toulouse, France) where she studied the gustatory and olfactory behaviour of the honeybee workers. This enriching experience enabled her to learn more about the scientific research field and gave her some self-confidence about her skills.

In order to graduate from her MSc degree, she has to do a 6-month internship and rather than returning to the lab in which she had previously worked, she decided to “take the risk” and pursue her dream of doing research in Africa. After doing some research, she contacted NVT to discuss her options, and soon after, her 6-month internship at Nature’s Valley Trust was settled! A dream came true!

Here in NVT she’s running her own project focused on the breeding system of the Watsonia knysnana, a beautiful and endemic plant species from the fynbos, aiming to determine whether sunbirds or insects are the main pollinators. Why is it relevant to study this species? Watsonia knysnana fits in with the debate on the trends in evolution: generalization or specialization? In fact, this plant shows specialized floral traits (such as the shape of the tube) for birds whereas its range of colours is more likely to attract insects. Louise really enjoys this enigma which suggests that Nature may not be as well organized as we like to believe.

Jennifer Angoh (September 2015 - January 2016)

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Jennifer always been fascinated by the interaction between many of the wild species she would catch a glimpse of or even better, handle. Her passion for biodiversity and its conservation grew throughout her BSc. degree in Biology (York University, Toronto). She was lucky enough to volunteer for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, monitoring endemic bird populations and also worked for Wildlife Preservation Canada on a project that involved mark-recapture of a threatened turtle species in Ontario. In July 2014, she moved to South Africa, describing it as a ‘land of contrasts and diversity’, where she was introduced to a whole new side of conservation. As an intern with SA National Parks she raised awareness about local conservation issues among the communities living in and around the Garden Route National Park. This made her realize how important it is to give to the leaders of tomorrow the knowledge to help safeguard nature for future generations.

In 2015, aspiring to become a conservationist with a wide spectrum of skills, she enrolled in the Conservation Biology Masters programme at the University of Cape Town. Part of this course entailed conducting research with the Natures Valley Trust. Her thesis looked at the vulnerability of plant-pollinator communities in fragmented landscapes (Supervisors:  Jeremy Midgley,   Mark Brown). In short, she studied a few species belonging to the genus, Erica. Despite being the largest genus in the Cape Floristic Region, little research has been done on the reproductive biology of ericas. The relationship between their mutualist pollinators could be at risk with more and more development underway in the region. 

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Jennifer handling a rehabilitated Kelp Gull (left) and handling a cute little Cape White-eye during a bird- ringing session.

Tracy Meintjies (July 2015 - Present)

 

Kellyn Whitehead (April 2015 - Present)

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In April of 2015 Kellyn applied to do her MSc in Ecology, through the University of KwaZulu Natal and Nature's Valley Trust. Her project will be looking at in depth pollination biology of three plant species found within the Nature's Valley area which are believed to be bird pollinated. She will also be looking at the 'magnet species' concept to see if a plant species (Erica discolor) attracts birds to an area which then benefits rarer bird pollinated plant species within the same area. Kellyn will be with NVT for another two years while she completes her MSc degree.

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Kellyn bagging a Cobra Lily for pollinator exclusion experiments (left), Chasmanthe aethiopica or Cobra Lily (middle) and determining nectar concentration through a refractometer (right)

 

Daniël Cloete (January 2015 - Present)

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Daniël always had a love and fascination with nature even though he didn’t have much exposure to the outdoors whilst growing up.  At completion of his BSc degree with Nature Conservation at Stellenbosch University, he pursued a lifelong dream and worked at Kuzuko Contractual Park to Addo National Park as a Conservation Manager for near on 7 years.  Following that, he worked as the Programme Director of the Nature’s Valley Trust for 4 years.  In 2012 he was accepted into the Conservation Biology MSc. class at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. After completion of his mini-thesis in 2013 that looked at the dramatic decline of the Martial Eagle in South Africa over preceding 20 years, he and his wife pursued one of their dreams to live in the Amazon Forest of Peru where they stayed for six months.  During his time there, he developed a deeper appreciation for birds and this eventually led him to contact Dr. Mark Brown to discuss the possibility of him undertaking a PhD project in Nature’s Valley.   In support towards undertaking his PhD, Daniël was awarded with the UCT Harry Crossley/GreenMatter Fellowship.

His PhD project, also undertaken at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute is titled - Bird pollination efficiency and bird nectarivore occupancy in fynbos: analysis of fragmented and transformed habitats in Tsitsikamma, South Africa.  In this project, bird pollination ecosystem functioning in a range of fynbos patches outside of the National Park (e.g. Redford and The Crags) will be compared with the functioning in intact and pristine fynbos habitat in the Park. The aim is to determine if there is diminished functioning as a result of anthropogenic fragmentation and alien infestation in unprotected areas.

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Daniel removing a bird from the net during bird-ringing (left) and during a hike up Formosa Peak (right).

 

Lisa Schroeter (January 2015 - September 2015)

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Lisa has always held a special interest in the coastal environment. After completing a number of research experiences around the world during her studies, she decided to return to Nature’s Valley – a place, which had captured her five years earlier while she spent a gap year in the area. Equipped with the scientific knowledge and passion for conservation, Lisa joined the Nature’s Valley Trust for her Master thesis. Together with Mark, she developed a project, which would give revealing insights on the effects of linefishery in the area. The long days in the field with more than 400 angler interviews over 12 months, have given the NVT a fantastic dataset, which will help to develop an important education programme. Lisa has also started a citizen science project on Elasmobranch Monitoring in the Plettenberg Bay area, which will keep her involved in local research while she is continuing her ecology work abroad.

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Lisa participating on an NVT tradition of leaving a rock with your name in the holes of a very weathered boulder (left) and Lisa interviewing fisherman on the rocky shores (right).

 

Selena Flores (October 2014 - Present)

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Hailing from coastal Southern California, Selena had great love for the beach, ocean, and nature from the start. Thus, with her passion for scientific research and conservation, studying animals that live near the sea has simply made sense. Though initially focusing on marine mammals and invertebrates, she found her love for birds quite late in her academic career, but ornithology quickly replaced all other pursuits. Since graduating with a BSc in Zoology from San Diego State University in 2007, Selena has tried her hand at many things in many places — teaching in California, seabird rehabilitation and zookeeping in Hawai’i, and working in well-known ornithology specimen collections at natural history museums in Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York City. While with the Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern species recovery and conservation plans in Central California, she caught the field research bug, and there was no turning back.

Since arriving in South Africa in 2013, Selena has worked with penguins and other seabirds at SANCCOB, and been involved with field research for the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, before joining the Nature’s Valley Trust in 2014. Calling upon her few years’ experience with a successful shorebird and coastal management programme, Selena is now conducting her MSc research examining the effects of human activity breeding success of White-fronted Plover on the beaches of Nature’s Valley and Plettenberg Bay, a high-tourism region of South Africa’s Garden Route. Considering shorebirds like the White-fronted Plover have gone through considerable population decline in the last 3 decades, developing an appropriate conservation management plan to balance human activity and coastal protection measures in this growing area is necessary. This project is in conjunction with Dr. Peter G. Ryan and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, a South African DST/NRF Centre of Excellence.

For a more photographic look at this work, check out the project’s blog at http://gardenrouteshorebirds.tumblr.com.

If you see Selena and her team out surveying the beach, be sure to say hello!

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Selena enjoying fieldwork and data collection on the White-fronted Plover.

Minke Witteveen (January 2013 - December 2014)

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Minke was born in Durban and grew up in Westville. She was child who loved playing in the garden rather than with Barbie dolls, wore shorts rather than dresses, and spent copious hours reading and not much, it seems, has changed. Her love of the natural world stems from her father, who is a naturalist who knows something about everything. At the end of her final year in high school, with a love for and strength in Biology, she decided to register for a general BSc, majoring in Genetics and Zoology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She then continued her studies by registering for Honours in Ecological Sciences also at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A big change for her came when she registered for a Masters through the University of Cape Town and moved to Plettenberg Bay where Dr Mark Brown of Nature’s Valley Trust co-supervised her MSc entitled: The influence of a changing environment on the breeding biology and diet of Kelp Gulls (Larus dominicanus vetula) in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. 

Minke loved her time at NVT, describing it as ‘an amazing privilege to work with Mark and his team and be involved in many of the activities and projects that NVT runs, especially the bird ringing!’.

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Minke in all her birding glory: ringing a bird (left), measuring the bill of a raptor (middle) and releasing a Cape Sugarbird after a morning of netting (right).

 

Monica Taylor (January 2014 - June 2014)

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Lee Raynor (2014)

Lee was a fulltime school teacher in Knysna, while pursuing an MSc. degree in Environmental Management at the University of the Free-state. Lee assessed water security for the town of Sedgefield with the supervision of Dr. Mark Brown and Dr. Steve du Toit (WESSA).