Study to benefit threatened species

Senecio triodontiphyllus is a daisy-like plant classified as “Vulnerable” on the Red List of South African Plants. This conservation status means it faces a high risk of extinction and it is also the reason why Katlego Makgopa from Wits University zoomed in on this species. She is studying towards her MSc degree and recently visited Mountainlands Nature Reserve with her supervisor, Prof Kevin Balkwill from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Katlego Makgopa photographing plants as part of her research

Mountainlands is a known locality for these plants, which have a distribution range that stretches from Barberton to Kaapmuiden. Botanists often joke that plants don’t read manuals – an grow where conditions suit them, which means their exact ranges and the number of populations are often not known. Data and specimens that have been collected and deposited at herbaria are used to determine how widely plants are distributed but does not necessarily indicate the number of plants.

Katlego visited the reserve to survey populations as part of her research. She has to establish a more precise range; determine how many populations there are, how many plants are in each, whether they are all the same size, if there are young and old plants and if the populations are viable.

Senecio triodontiphyllus in its natural habitat

Currently, the population trend is indicated as stable, but threats include habitat loss and invasive alien plant species. Katlego will also have to establish whether there are other threats and work out if the plants will be resilient against the effects of climate change.

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