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Zoology Master’s graduate Hendrik du Toit overcame the challenging trials of doing a field and laboratory-based research project during the lockdown of 2020, to graduate cum laude at Nelson Mandela University’s April Graduation.

With the mentorship of Prof Nadine Strydom and her Fish Research Team, Hendrik’s dissertation produced meaningful insights into the ecology and physiology of an unusual gobid fish, experiencing high levels of parasite infection within microbialite pools near the University’s South Campus in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).

Hendrik is also the co-author of one peer-reviewed international scientific publication stemming from his master’s research and is in the process of preparing three of his dissertation chapters for submission for publication.

“The lockdown had an impact on my sampling ability and progress and meant that I could not continue experiments with the live fish housed in the University aquaria in the Zoology department”, Hendrik says.

“All sampling in the field had to be placed on hold or halted indefinitely. Fortunately, I was able to have collected enough data prior to the lockdown going into effect, to be able complete my analyses for this dissertation.

Gobid fish (or gobies – often caught by young children in rock pools with hand nets) are the bottom-dwelling resident fishes commonly found in tidal pools along our coast.

Microbialite (or stromatolite) pools are unique habitats that form along our coast that were discovered in the past two decades.  They are living examples of the earliest ecosystems that we know of on earth, dating back in the fossil record as far back as 3.45 billion years – the oldest example of life on earth. The creatures living in them, including the gobies, are a unique group of organisms which thrive in these unusual coastal habitats, says co-supervisor Dr Gavin Rishworth.

During his MSc research, Hendrik was able to show that even with a high level of parasite infection, these gobies are largely unaffected in terms of their health and behaviour.  Instead, the parasites might be an important additional component of the unique biodiversity of these habitats.

Microbialites and the unique, unusual and unknown creatures within them, are a recently recognised component of the coastal biodiversity heritage of South Africa on the doorstep of Nelson Mandela University, and are an internationally relevant scientific, geotourism and ecological asset.


Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160