CIB associate honoured for book on invasive species

Leonie Joubert, a science writer and associate of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University, has been named the SAB Environmental Journalist of the Year in the print and internet category for two books she authored on climate change and invasive species.

 The SAB Environmental Journalists Awards have become South Africa’s most prestigious accolade for journalists producing crucial environmental coverage.

According to the judges, Joubert has always been committed to drawing the nation’s attention to a whole range of environmental concerns.leonie_joubert1

She has produced two excellent books this year, including Boiling Point: People in a Changing Climate and Invaded: The Biological Invasion of South Africa while maintaining several columns in The Mail & Guardian and other outlets.

The books were conceptualised and produced partly as a consequence of her interaction with the Centre for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Joubert is an alumnus of the SU Department of Journalism, and works as a freelance science writer and columnist based in Cape Town.

She says she met CIB director Prof Steven Chown seven years ago. “He was looking for a journalist to put through a Master’s programme and skill up in science communication; I was looking for a career change.”

“The shift in my focus as a writer as a result has been nothing short of seismic,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed working with the CIB and the Capacity Building Programme for Climate Change Research (CBPCCR), the latter of which has since been put out to pasture.”

Her books Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate (Honorary 2007 Sunday Times Alan Paton Non-Fiction Award) and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate, travel through South Africa’s remarkable countryside and tell the stories of places and people that are vulnerable to climate change.

She sees Invaded as “another instalment” in this fruitful working relationship. “It is one which I think demonstrates that scientists and journalists can bridge the divide between the disciplines if they put their minds to it

Invaded not only serves as a checklist of species such as wattles, Mediterranean mussels, triffid weed and Argentine ants that have invaded the South African environment in the last 300 years, but also includes discussions on genetically modified crops, how to contain invasion and the management of transformed landscapes.

Unhindered by the predators and diseases which once kept their populations in check in their native countries, many of these species have come to outnumber and outcompete species in South Africa in such a way that they have had a serious impact on local ecosystems, agriculture and the provision of water.

Although not exclusively so, Invaded addresses various topics and subjects on whom scientists associated with the CIB have been working on over the years. These include the painted reed frogs, invasive pine trees and the African honey bee.

“One of the real successes of the CIB has been our ability to have a productive interaction with an environmental and popular science writer of Leonie’s calibre,” says CIB director Prof Steven Chown.

The C·I·B is an inter-institutional research unit that brings together a network of invasion biology researchers throughout South Africa and aims to provide the scientific understanding required to reduce the rate and impacts of biological invasions in a manner that will improve the quality of life of all South Africans.