Fellow UKZN Scientists Honoured
Two academics from the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus have received UKZN Fellowships in recognition of their distinguished academic achievements.
Professor Colleen Downs, South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, and Professor Steven Johnson, South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology, joined a select group of about 90 academics who have received this prestigious honour from the University since 1989.
Downs, who has been at the University since 1994, began her UKZN career in the Science Foundation Programme. With more than 200 peer-reviewed publications to her name, she is the University’s Top-Published Woman Researcher and has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students. Many of her past students have achieved international recognition.
Her research on terrestrial vertebrates, which has contributed considerably to conservation activities throughout Africa, has focused on their ecology, physiology, behaviour and conservation, including work on effects of changing land use and urban ecology. Her vertebrate subjects include Cape parrots, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and serval cats.
With a passion for science education as well as being a keen birder, she is Chair of the Cape Parrot Working Group and has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for the past 17 years. She was recently appointed Honorary President of BirdLife SA and is a Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU).
Johnson is one of the University’s most prolific researchers, focusing his research on understanding the evolutionary diversification of plants, the conservation of plant-pollinator mutualisms, and the reproductive biology of invasive species.
Johnson holds his second A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is the South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology. He completed his PhD on the pollination of plants in the Cape flora at UCT in 1994 and is a leading specialist in the field of plant pollination biology. Johnson has also established a state-of-the-art laboratory for the study of chemical cues used by plants to attract insect pollinators.
Johnson has published more than 270 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as a number of popular science articles, and co-authored the books Table Mountain: A Natural History; The Cape Orchids: a regional monograph of the orchids of the Cape Floristic Region; and Orchids of South Africa – A Field Guide.
He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NRF President’s Award, the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Percy Sergeant Medal, and UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award.
Johnson is currently supervising 12 masters and five PhD students, having successfully supervised 11 PhD, 13 masters and 22 post-doctoral fellows.