31 December 2018 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Anja Aucamp
Dr Frank Chidawanyika
Dr Frank Chidawanyika finds the Prestige Scholars Programme progressive, helping young academics to start on a good note.

How insects respond and adapt to global climate change and what humans can learn from this to protect or further improve its food basket, is the study field of Dr Frank Chidawanyika, a senior lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS.

Dr Chidawanyika grew up in Zimbabwe, where his interest in insects started while spending time in nature. “Working with insects comes naturally for me; I have always found them to be fascinating,” he said.

Impact of climate on insects

His academic career started at the University of Zimbabwe with a BScAgricHons (Crop Science). He then achieved his MSc (Entomology) at Stellenbosch and his PhD (Entomology) at Wits, in collaboration with the ICIPE in Kenya and Rothamsted Research in the UK.

His research broadly falls under the theme of Global Change Biology and focuses on how climate change affects insect population dynamics. “One of my main interests is to understand how temperature and other climatic factors influence the survival and distribution patterns of insects.”

Correlation between climate and damage to crops

His research also seeks to understand how environmental change influences plant-insect interactions. These studies track how the changes in nutritional value and defensive capacities of plants in response to changing environments influence the behaviour of their long coevolved insect herbivores. These studies give insight as to how, for instance, agricultural pests will respond to various climate change scenarios.

“Will they be more damaging to crops? What plants have a better suit of constitutive and induced defense mechanisms within them, even under stress? What kind of genes are involved for such resistance, and can they be conferred to weaker crops?” are some of the questions he asks.

As a young researcher, Dr Chidawanyika is part of the UFS Prestige Scholars Programme (PSP). “I find it a very progressive programme that helps young academics to start on a good note,” he says. He adds: “The academic world can be hostile, especially for a new researcher. It is good to have platforms such as the PSP for both mentorship and interaction with peers in similar situations to mine”.

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