SU prof and insect expert retains A-rating

Professor Michael Samways hunting katydids.

Insect conservationist Professor Michael Samways of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University has retained his A-rating in the latest round of assessments conducted by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF).

The rating acknowledges him as a world leader in his particular field of study.

Ratings are determined by a NRF panel which receives reports from experts across the globe.

Professor Samways has helped to develop the field of insect conservation since its early years.

He is also active in matters relating to the conservation of “other little animals that run the world”. He is the author of more than 375 scientific publications, including 15 books which include guides about South African dragonflies.

“While insect conservation may seem a rarefied topic, it is vitally important for every one of us, and the world in general,” he says.

“Insects, along with other invertebrates, are a major component of the woof and weft of life. They help make soil, they pollinate plants, and they are food for the majority of vertebrates, whether frog, lizard, bird or mammal.”

The concern globally is that insects are in dramatic decline from human impact on the environment. This decline stems from habitat loss, pesticide use, pollution, traffic impact, to the effect of electric lights at night.

“Something had to be done, and done fast,” says Professor Samways. “This means interacting with the world far beyond the ivory tower, and engaging with landowners and stewards across the world to share ideas and find solutions. While the basic thinking is global, the action is local.”

He says good conservation outcomes can be achieved through an iterative process between research at a university level and management in the field.

“The challenge is defined in the field, addressed by research, and findings applied in the field to address the challenge, and so on,” he sets out the methodology.

Professor Samways has been very involved in this iterative interaction with landowners and stewards for many years. “We can be proud that in South Africa we have paved the way for new approaches,” he says.

These include the implementation of interconnected conservation corridors, known as ecological networks, among responsible forestry enterprises. These networks enable optimal production of timber while maximising conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem processes.

For this work, his research team in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology received the GreenMatter Award at the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) ceremony in 2016.

Over the past 40 years he has been able to put his academic interests into practice by among others helping to rethink local pest management strategies, freshwater assessments, sustainable wine and timber production and to help restore the Cousine Island in the Seychelles to its natural state.

His contribution to such biodiversity and conservation matters has been acknowledged by the Global Conference of Entomology and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.

Among the recent honours he has also received are the Science-for-Society Gold Medal from the Academy of Science of South Africa and the Gold Medal of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.