UFH and SANBI host National Symposium on Biological Invasions

Read time: 3 mins

Pictured L-R: Mr Wiseman Rikhotso, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Director, Dr Mlungele Nsikani from the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Dr Jana Fried, Assistant Professor from Coventry University, Dr Unathi Heshula, UFH Zoology and Entomology Senior Lecturer and Distinguished Prof Martin Hill from Rhodes University

“Invasion of species into new regions is the second most important threat to biodiversity after habitat loss and degradation.” This according Dr Lelethu Unathi Heshula, Senior Lecturer at the UFH Zoology and Entomology.

Dr Heshula made this statement ahead of the National Symposium on Biological Invasions (NSOBI) where critical stakeholders within the biological invasions fraternity have converged on the University of Fort Hare Alice campus to share ideas and plot new directions for the future.

The three-day biennial symposium is hosted by the University in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) from the 6th to the 8th July.

Carrying the theme: Investing in Biosecurity to Improve Human Livelihoods, participants and contributors will focus on issues around research and the management of biosecurity and how this relates to improving livelihoods. 

Furthermore, the theme aims to bring to the fore the funding challenges that are plaguing the biological invasions field in the country by reigniting the debate around the importance of continued funding.

The symposium brings together invasion experts, students, managers, and policy makers that are interested in biological invasions and their management in the Southern Africa region.

This is the first time that UFH is hosting the conference, the University is also the first institution to organise a face-to-face gathering of this symposium since pre-Covid-19 conditions.

The gathering was opened with a welcome address delivered by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu and opening remarks by Wiseman Rikhotso, Director at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Dr Jana Fried, Assistant Professor from Coventry University in the United Kingdom delivered the first keynote address titled: Reflections on interdisciplinary research in biosecurity and invasion science.

Other key speakers for the duration of symposium include:

  • Distinguished Prof Martin Hill: SARChI Research Chair in Entomology, Professor and Head of Entomology, Director: Centre for Biological Control (CBC) at Rhodes University and President of International Organisation of Biological Control Global.
  • Dr Angus Peterson, Managing Director, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB-NRF, MAKHANDA), and;
  • Mr Wiseman Rikhotso

Dr Heshula said the meeting of these stakeholders is critical because of the significant challenges presented by biological invasion in South Africa.  

 “Invasive species (animals, plants, microorganisms, seeds) are pervasive drivers of global change responsible for substantial ecological, health, social and economic losses in societies almost everywhere in the world.”

“Generally, invasions occur when species colonize new geographic regions that are isolated from indigenous populations. Humans have played a significant role in facilitating and accelerating these invasion dynamics, in part due to an expansion in global trade and the ease and speed at which goods (including species) can now move across historical barriers such as borders,” explained Dr Heshula.

According to him, significant investments such as research and management, have been made in biosecurity over the past two decades as the global threat of biological invasions continues to rise. However, as national policies and priorities change under the pressure of multiple development demands and the COVID-19 pandemic, biosecurity faces numerous challenges.

“Key amongst these is sustained funding and ensuring that biosecurity continues to facilitate the improvement of human livelihoods. Therefore, this year’s theme aims to bring to the forefront the conversation on the value of biosecurity to the country, the need for continued funding and support, and the importance of biosecurity as a vehicle to improve human livelihoods,” he stated.

Under the theme, contributors will cover topics centred on invasion theories, drivers of invasions, trends and status of invasions, impacts of invasions, and management interventions for invasions.

“The goal of this symposium is to highlight the many successes in the field, by not only probing the various scientific aspects of biological invasions but also how findings have been a vehicle to improve human livelihoods. We also believe that the hosting of this symposium at UFH Alice campus will serve to showcase the capabilities of our institution and our uniquely historical town as we embark on our Decade of Renewal,” concluded Dr Heshula.