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Dr Daniel Andrawus Zhigila

Room: HWPearson 3.19




Daniel completed his B.Sc. (Hons) in Botany from the University of Maiduguri and his M.Sc. (Plant Biology) from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Daniel graduated with PhD in December 2020 at the laboratory of Profs A. Muthama Muasya and G. Anthony Verboom at University of Cape Town, South Africa. He investigated molecular phylogenetics, taxonomy and niche-based modelling and conservation risk assessments of the genus Thesium L., Santalaceae.

Thesium is the largest genus with about 360 species in the order Santalales. Species in the genus occur mainly in the old world but most diverse with 187 species in the Southern African flora. It was grossly understudied with a partial taxonomic revision done a century ago. I used molecular, morphological and biogeography data to propose an infrageneric classification. Consequently, recognizing five subgenera, reflecting evolutionary relatedness and each supported by unambiguous characters. A detailed taxonomic revision was done on subgenus Hagnothesium, comprising eight species which are all endemic to the Cape Region. He wrapped up the study by modelling the habitats using MaxEnt towards conservation risk assessments of the Cape plant genus Thesium. Key novelties include infrageneric classification of Thesium, discovery and description of eight species new to science, majority of which are restricted in the highly fragmented agricultural landscape in the Agulhas Plain. For more information visit . The conservation status of the Cape Thesium was evaluated, via modelling the niche breadths, to aid in developing conservation strategies in the face of accelerated climate change.

Daniel is a fellow of the prestigious 'Smuts Botanical Memorial Fellowship' convened by UCT and SANBI from the year 2021. He works on phylogenetic community diversity of the southern Africa quartz field habitats. These are island-like edaphic special habitats largely restricted to the Knersvlakte, the Little Karoo and the Overberg areas of South Africa. These habitats are centers of diversity and endemism in Africa, with about 100 habitat-specialized plants species of which 85% are local endemics. Studying betadiversity within a phylogenetic context, which compares the diversity of different areas, helps to identify historical affinities between lineages and to explain why certain lineages are filtered by special habitats such as the quartz fields. What functional traits predispose the species toward such extreme environments? For example - why are species of Aizoaceae and Asteraceae (Knersvlakte and Little Karoo) or Fabaceae and Cyperaceae (Overberg) dominating on quartz fields? Firstly, based on the concept of phylogenetic niche conservatism, Daniel tests the hypothesis that species with close phylogenetic relationships should evolutionarily have more similar ecological requirements than distantly related species. Further, he predicts that abiotic filtering coupled with the biotic interactions influence community phylogenetic structure, while biogeographic and ecological processes drive the underlying patterns of community assemblages. This filtering may be associated with temporal and spatial gradients of the environmental conditions. Secondly, if phylogenetic diversity is structured such that geographical patterns tend to be shared among closely related lineages, Daniel predicts that lineage diversification over time is driven by character divergence.