UKZN professor recognised for his work gets ‘gold medal’ in field of botany

Professor Steven Johnson. Picture: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Steven Johnson. Picture: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Published Feb 8, 2023


Durban – University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Professor Steven Johnson, who has expertise in the ecology, evolution and chemistry of plant-animal interactions, was awarded the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) Gold Medal at the University of Limpopo.

UKZN said that the award was the association’s premier acknowledgement for outstanding botanical research and contributions to the advancement of botany in South Africa.

According to the university, the award is presented only in exceptional circumstances to outstanding candidates.

Normah Zondo, the executive director of corporate relations at UKZN, said Johnson received the Gold Medal Award at the 48th annual SAAB meeting hosted by the University of Limpopo in Polokwane with the theme: plants, health and prosperity.

“Professor Johnson is internationally recognised for his leadership in the field of plant pollination biology and is one of the university’s most prolific researchers.

“The university congratulates him on his well-deserved award, with the dean and head of the School of Life Sciences, Professor Ademola Olaniran, crediting him for continuing to fly the flag of the institution high.”

Zondo added that the award joined Johnson’s growing list of accolades.

“He holds an A1 research rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), was conferred a Fellowship of UKZN in 2016, and is a recipient of the UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Award and the NRF President’s Award.

“Johnson also held the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)-NRF South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology for 15 years, is a past member of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, and in 2019 with the launch of UKZN’s Centre for Functional Biodiversity (CFB) became the centre’s director.”

Zondo said Johnson joined the staff of the then University of Natal in 1997 (now UKZN) after his PhD studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“Post-doctoral research fellowships (were done) at the University of Haifa in Israel and Uppsala University in Sweden, and the Smuts Fellowship at UCT. He attained the rank of full professor in 2007 and has supervised 40 post-graduate students and 27 post-doctoral researchers.”

Zondo added that Johnson's extensive research on the ecology, evolution and chemistry of plant-animal interactions has so far resulted in the publication of 356 peer-reviewed scientific articles and four books.

“He has served on the editorial boards of several international scientific journals and delivered numerous international talks and public lectures. Johnson has established a state-of-the-art laboratory at UKZN to identify the chemical composition and biological functions of volatile emissions from plants.

“Johnson has been involved in world-first studies including discovery of the sexual exploitation of beetles for pollination by a near-extinct orchid and the first case of lizard pollination on the African continent.”