Career ambitions: Cape legume systematist and botanical explorer

Brian reigns from George in the Western Cape where he started off studying for a BTech in Nature Conservation. He recalls always having an interest in plants, but his passion grew when a botany lecturer introduced him to iSpot and when he joined the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme late in 2012.

However, his journey was not without its challenges. Switching from a Btech Nature Conservation to a BSc Hons Biodiversity and Ecology was a big jump and he experienced a large knowledge gap from not doing undergrad BSc. Yet, he says he has other more practical skills that have helped and he is slowly learning new things especially in the areas of molecular phylogenetics and statistics.

Brian has a prolific record of finding special plants in the field, both new species to science and undescribed species. He has rediscovered 4 species thought to be extinct, the best being the Psoralea cataracta find, a species thought to be extinct since 1804.

Another major achievement for the 28 year old was completing his MSc Botany and graduating cum laude. The main focus of his project (the MSc) was to produce a monograph on the genus Polhillia which was recently published in South African Journal of Botany. Herein, he described four new species, one of which he discovered just months before his submission.

What is Brian’s PhD about?

The project aims to revise the genus Indigofera (with at least 30 new species to science) within the Greater Cape Floristic Region (GCFR). Molecular work investigating species relationships and the evolution of morphological characters will be investigated, and species richness vs endemism patterns within the GCFR Indigofera will be explored. This will be the first complete revision of the genus within the GCFR, and IUCN red list assessments will be provided for all species revised. 

How will his work make an impact on society ?

According to Brian his work will help to conserve the various Indigofera species, some of which are rare or threatened with extinction. The revision will also lead to citizens having an up to date, detailed resource from which to identify Indigofera species encountered in the field. Data gathered will also feed into online databases such as GBIF and allow online collections such as on iNaturalist to be curated. 

Institution: University of Cape Town

Project title: Revision of the genus Indigofera in the GCFR

Project supervisors: Prof’s A.M. Muasya, L.L. Dreyer, C.H. Stirton & Dr’s B.D. Schrire and S. Chimphango