Zoology Professor at the University of Limpopo (UL), Derek Engelbrecht recently joined 97 other scientists representing 17 nationalities and 19 scientific institutions on a 40-day expedition around the Antarctic Marginal Ice Zone to discover how Antarctic sea birds thrive in the icy Southern Ocean.
He was selected by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to join a part of the annual seabird survey to record the spring seabird species distribution, and relative abundance in the African sector of the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean.
It also formed part of a long-term project to map the distribution and density of seabirds to better inform marine biodiversity management in the Southern Ocean.
Engelbrecht, who was the team leader for the sub-section dubbed “Physics to Top Predators” was quoted to have said the data he collected would help define ‘ocean hotspots’ where seabirds largely congregate with some degree of consistency.
“Also, the data will identify important areas for highly threatened species and better explain the spatio-temporal occurrence of seabirds and other marine animals in a given area,” he remarked.
He stated that he knew very little about marine ecology before the expedition. “It was an exceptional learning experience. One of the objectives of my participation was to identify opportunities for future research projects for UL students.”
Engelbrecht believes that the experiment will also come in handy for his second-year Zoology syllabus which deals with adaptations of vertebrates to extreme environments. “The survey involves a census of Adelie and Emperor Penguins, the first of its kind for the Lazarev Sea in Antarctica. The data are currently being analysed for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.”
In 2018 Engelbrecht was bestowed with the Eagle-Owl Award by Birdlife South Africa for being one of the leading biodiversity scholars who contribute exceptionally to the conservation of birds and their habitats.
He devotes most of his time on intensive research into the ecology of birds and also conducts regular talks with conservation organisations. He also arranges bird-ringing demonstrations for the community to see birds in close proximity, where he educates the community about the importance of birds.
He is a member of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa, Birdlife South Africa, the African Bird Club, Birdlife Zimbabwe, and the British Ornithologists’ Club.
He completed a BSc in Zoology and Botany in 1991, BSc Zoology Hons in 1992 and MSc in Zoology in 1995 from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg).
He joined the then University of the North (now UL) in 1992 as a Physiology Lecturer. In 2000, he obtained a PhD in Biodiversity at UL with a focus on the population genetics and conservation of minnows (small fish) in mountain streams.
He has supervised over 50 honours and masters students in Physiology and Zoology.
He has 35 articles in various national and international scientific publications to his name as well as 53 semi-scientific and popular articles in magazines, including Africa Birds and Birding as well as African Birdlife.
Story: Herbert Rachuene