Ecologist Emma Gray's flourishing research career has received a further boost thanks to a 2014 UNESCO-L'Oréal for Women in Science International Fellowship.
With a $20 000 purse attached, the fellowship is granted to young women whose research impacts on human well-being and the environment.
It will allow Gray to expand her work on the determinants of plant growth rates - and potentially study cross-continental comparisons between Australia, Africa and South America.
"But more than that, the fellowship has given me much-needed recognition, which I hope will help me establish myself as a young researcher in the future," said the UCT alumna, now a member of Dr Ian Wright's laboratory at Macquarie University, Australia, where she's investigating the basic science underpinning plant growth.
"I aim to make good use of the experience to promote women in science, and show that we are just as capable as men," added Gray, one of this year's 15 recipients of the fellowships.
Her recent master's work at UCT (supervised by the Department of Biological Sciences' Emeritus Professor William Bond), examined how forests are encroaching on the African savanna. This afforestation will affect the water cycle, fire regimes, and plant biodiversity '“ as well as iconic savanna mammals like lions and zebra.
"Tree encroachment results largely from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and is slowly causing some areas of the savannas to turn into forests," explained Gray. "I wanted to know what would happen to ecosystem services if Africa's savannas turned into forests."
After completing her master's at UCT, Gray interned at the National Research Foundation and then worked as a researcher at the South African Environmental Observation Network where she was a mentee of Dr Jasper Slingsby (also a UCT graduate). Their work sought to understand diversity patterns in the Cape Floristic Region, a biodiversity hotspot where climate change is threatening diversity.
In October 2013 Gray started her PhD at Macquarie University where Wright is at the forefront of plant ecophysiology. Attached to his laboratory, Gray will be able to develop strong quantitative and programming skills, putting her "ahead of the game" when she returns to South Africa, hopefully for postdoctoral studies.
Story by Helen Swingler. Image supplied.
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