Science and education at the Centre for Invasion Biology
du Plessis, D.
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South Africa has severe problems caused by biological invasions in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and a long history of managing biological invasions. However, appreciation and systematic study of the problems associated with invasive species are relatively recent. In 2004, the Centre for Invasion Biology (CIB) was established as one of the first six national Centres of Excellence funded by the South African government. The aim of the DST-NRF Centres of Excellence is to concentrate existing capacity and resources to enable researchers to collaborate across disciplines on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive. Understanding the biological and ecological underpinnings of invasions is crucial, but much emphasis is placed on understanding the ‘human dimensions’ of invasions, and on seeking solutions for current problems, and techniques for preventing new invasions. Education is a critical component of this knowledge-building process, and the CIB infuses education for sustainable development into all of its activities. The Centre conducts education and outreach at the secondary school, under-graduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral levels, and in the workplace to develop capacity at all levels. The Centre’s flagship outreach programme, Iimbovane, aims to increase environmental literacy and inspire secondary school learners to take up scientific careers through facilitating field and laboratory work that is embedded in the life science curriculum; the programme focuses on under-resourced schools. At tertiary level, the under-graduate training course in invasion biology presented at Stellenbosch University provides an introduction to the exciting and important field of invasion science for final-year Bachelor degree students. A distributed network of researchers located in universities and research institutions around South Africa also trains 50–60 post-graduate students, and hosts ten to twelve post-doctoral researchers each year, through whom much of the Centre’s research is conducted. In the working world, members are involved both in citizen science programmes on invasive species and in collaborative work with partner organisations which implement invasive species management programmes, provide employment opportunities for graduates of the Centre, and form a source of working (part-time) graduate students.