Mathematical ecologist’s potential as researcher recognised
When he started his studies in China in the 1990s, Dr Cang Hui was quite set on becoming an applied mathematician. However, an academic mentor in his third year, who happened to be a biomathematician, introduced him to matters relating to biology, and set him on his path as a mathematical ecologist.
“I came under the impression that the 21st century would be the century for biology,” remembers Dr Hui, who followed his MSc in Applied Mathematics with a PhD in Ecology from Lanzhou University in China.
He now describes himself as a mathematical ecologist, or, a mathematician turned ecologist who combines these two disciplines to study the trends and distribution of invasive species such as Australian acacias and Argentine ants,
“I am interested in the interface between ecology and mathematics,” he explains. “My continuous interest is to apply mathematics in the field of ecology for a deeper and more fundamental understanding of emerging ecological patterns.”
For the past three years, Dr Hui (33) has done just that as a core team member of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University (SU). He started his career at the University in 2004 as a postdoctoral associate of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology.
Earlier this year, Dr Hui received the good news that he had received a coveted P rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), which recognises his potential to become a future leader within his research field.
Mathematical ecology and ecological modelling are among the scarce skills in South Africa and has become a necessary tool in ecology and conservation management.
Mathematical models, computer simulation, and numerical analysis are the primary methods Dr Hui adopts in his research.
Dr Hui’ provides valuable support to fellow scientists in the field of invasion biology. Among his current projects are ones on the dispersal of European starlings in Britain and South Africa, and the spatial patterns of invasive plants in the Kruger National Park.
“I try to bring theory and real examples together,” he says of his research on habitat destruction and biological invasions, cooperation evolution and niche construction, spatial and community pattern formation of species distribution.
He believes his research will not only illuminate how nature works, but also challenge the development of mathematics.
Dr Hui is the author or co-author of 62 journal articles, and has also contributed to an impressive number of book chapters and full-length proceedings. He serves on the editorial boards of Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences and The Open Zoology Journal, and is an associate editor of Biological Invasions.
- Physiological ecologist Dr John Terblanche, a former student of the CIB, also recently received a P-rating. He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology,