At age six she had her own “toktokkie” beetle collection, hidden from her parents in empty match boxes. While her father worked the garden, the curious tot would be searching for creepy crawlies to concoct a “garden soup”.
By the time Marliese Truter hit her teenage years she already had a taste of curating her own “collection” and had set her sights on becoming a scientific researcher.
The exact field of interest was still unclear. One thing was for sure though: she had no idea she would have an interest in microscopic creatures – let alone parasites of fish.
The 30 year old, born and raised in Mossel Bay, started her undergraduate studies with a BSc in Zoology and Microbiology. On completion of her degree, the world of aquatic science opened like a flower in bloom. “My current research group, the Water Research Group, had +-10 aquatic research related honours projects and I applied for three, all focused on parasitology. This is where my love for fish parasitology started,” Marliese told the FBIP.
She was lucky (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) to have a team of supervisors that saw her potential, led her towards opportunities to excel, and provided support to accomplish her career aspirations.
At the age of nine, Marliese was proud to call Dad her hero. Today, maturity has shown her that both her parents (as a team) represent her “hero”. They are her guiding star and core inspiration in life.
In the domain of her career she sings the praises of a phenomenal team of mentors who have inspired her since she started her postgraduate studies. They inspire her to want to give back: “I hope to one day have a similar contribution or influence on young researcher’s journey and careers in the same way they did for me”.
Marliese also draws inspiration from, and has an “old school” love for books.
“Even in this technological era, there is something magical about the feel and smell of old books written by great names. I hope someday I would also have my name on the spine of a book, whether it is on a shelf somewhere in a library, museum or in electronic format,” she says.
Current research focus
Marliese has since scaled the heights of academia and has been appointed in a postdoctoral position affiliated to the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) REFRESH project. We asked about her present study? What is it about? How does it fit into the REFRESH project? How will it make a difference?
“My current research focuses on the inventory of aquatic biodiversity in South Africa. I am specifically interested in the parasites that live in or on fishes, their distribution and the range of hosts that they parasitise. The world often perceives parasites as a problem or disgusting creatures, but in fact almost all of these tiny organisms contribute substantially to the functioning of the environments.
“It is only a few parasitic species globally that are of medical importance to humans and animals, the rest of them are amazing little creatures that facilitates food web links between organisms in a specific ecosystem (i.e., birds -> fish -> snails).
“This research project contributes to the REFRESH project by bridging the gaps of knowledge that is outdated contributes to the study and detection of new hosts.and hosts. The last inventory of freshwater fish parasites in our country was published in 1984, and it was mainly produced out of concern for the introduction of parasites with fishes such as bass and carp that may be harmful to our endemic and native fishes.
“Over the past ±40 years several new discoveries were made, but some fishes and their parasitic communities have never been studied or updated. We are creating a database containing this information as well as investigating regions where very few or no information is available. I think one of the most important aspects, in addition to this data inventory, is the approach to use fish parasites as tools to promote the conservation of their hosts.
“Lastly, our research provides data that has never before been included in national biodiversity assessments that guides the decision making and resource allocation to the protection and management of species that occur in South Africa.”
Marliese hopes to one day provide the support and inspiration to students as her supervisors did for her. She says she would like to grow as a researcher, stay in the academia to teach and guide the future generations interested in gaining and disseminating knowledge.
Marliese’s current supervisors:
- Prof Nico J Smit, professor of Ecology at the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, North West.
- Dr Albert Chakona from the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, Eastern Cape.