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Prof Allan Ellis
September 1, 2022 @ 17:3018:30Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of Science
Dazzling daisies and forlorn flies: Namaqualand tales of unrequited love
Many of us have made the long trek up the west coast, or into the heart of Namaqualand, to admire the spring daisies. But I imagine that fewer of us have stopped to wonder why the daisies are coloured and patterned the way they are, or why their dominant colours change as we drive through the landscape, or how they all manage to reproduce in such dense mass displays. My talk will begin to answer these and many other questions, drawing on 15 years of research on the annual daisies of Namaqualand. This work is anchored in the spectacular floral diversity we have discovered in the most common annual daisy species and attempts to understand the evolution of these unusual floral traits, scaling up from the genes that control their development to the landscape gradients across which they are sorted. The results tell a story of underestimated diversity arising through unexpected interactions with unwitting flies. And while many questions remain unanswered, next time you head up north to see the spring flowers, you’re sure to do so with a new appreciation of the white and orange daisy carpets that form the backdrop of the Cape’s unique mass flowering displays.
WATCH THE INAUGURAL LECTURE HERE
Allan Ellis was appointed as a professor in the Department of Botany and Zoology of Stellenbosch University in January 2020. He is an evolutionary ecologist studying the mechanisms that generate and maintain biological diversity in the extraordinary natural laboratory of the Cape. He completed his undergraduate studies in Botany and Zoology at the University of Cape Town before spending several years working as an ecologist in the Sahel and Namaqualand. A deep fascination with Africa’s arid systems grew from this experience, which ultimately led to a Fulbright PhD at the University of California and a postdoctoral position at the University of KwaZulu-Natal investigating diversification of vygies and daisies in Namaqualand. Understanding the diversity, evolution and ecology of these two dominant plant families in South Africa’s arid zones remains a central research focus in his group. Allan has supervised 13 MSc, 10 PhD and 6 postdoctoral students and has published 75 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters.