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Dr Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen

NRF Research Career Advancement Fellow
Department of Biological Sciences, UCT

Tel: +27 21 650 5346
Room No.: 3.25 (John Day Building)
External webpages: and


Main Research Interests

I am interested in all research of plant reproductive biology and plant-animal interactions spanning disciplines of ecology, evolutionary biology, scent chemistry, microbiology and genetics. Most of my research revolves around pollination ecology and the evolution of plant traits such as flower colour and scent in association with specific pollination systems.

Pollination shifts in the African genus Protea (Proteaceae)

Following my postgraduate research describing a beetle pollination system in fruity-scented Protea species in KwaZulu-Natal, I am now exploring the floral traits associated with small non-flying mammal pollinators in the Cape Floral Kingdom. Mammal pollinated sugarbushes grow low to the ground and their inflorescences emit cheesy/sour-milk odours. Remote camera work has revealed that a wide array of mammals visit these sugarbushes, namely rodents, elephant shrews and the occasional genets and mongooses(see New Scientist - Voracious carnivores caught knocking back sugary flower nectar and BBC - Earth - Animals you might not know pollinate flowers). I continue to collaborate with colleagues at UKZN and several postgraduate students at UCT on analysing the scent profiles of as many Protea species as we can find, and confirming pollination systems in the genus, the end goal being to investigate drivers of speciation in this genus.

The fruit chafer, Atrichelaphinis tigrina (Cetoniinae), seen here visiting Protea dracomontana, is the most frequent pollinator of fruity-scented Protea species in KwaZulu-Natal

Current Postgraduates

Honours 2015:

Miss Sarah Catto - Testing the therophilous pollination syndrome: predicting pollination systems of ground Protea species in the Western Cape

Masters 2015:

Miss Yolanda Chirango - The pollination ecology of Cape milkweeds (Asclepiadoideae)

Miss Adelé Pretorius – Of mice, birds and Protea, do diel patterns of nectar production reflect pollinator dependence in the threatened Fynbos biome?

Previous collaboration:

Miss Alice Balmer (D. Hansen, S.D. Johnson, J. Midgley. 2013. Fast food for animals – A comprehensive ecological pollination study of non-flying mammal pollinated Proteas. MSc at University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Miss Nicola Kuhn (S.L. Steenhuisen and J. Midgley. 2013. Community ecology of small-mammal pollinated proteas. Honours at University of Cape Town.)

Miss Kim Zoeller (S.L. Steenhuisen, S.D. Johnson and J. Midgley. 2014. The reproductive biology of four geoflorous Protea species (Proteaceae). MSc at University of Cape Town)

Mr Roderick Bouman (S.L. Steenhuisen and T. Van der Niet. 2015. Coexisting with your relatives: Co-flowering insect-pollinated Erica species are not characterized by different specialized pollination systems in a biodiversity hotspot. MSc at University of Leiden, The Netherlands.)

Publication Record:

  1. Steenhuisen, S.L., R.A. Raguso, A. Jürgens & S.D. Johnson. 2010. Variation in scent emission among floral parts and inflorescence developmental stages in beetle-pollinated Protea species (Proteaceae). South African Journal of Botany. 76: 779-787.
  2. Steenhuisen, S.L. and S.D. Johnson. 2012. Evidence for autonomous selfing in grassland Protea species (Proteaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 169: 433–446.
  3. Steenhuisen, S.L. and S.D. Johnson. 2012. Evidence for beetle pollination in the African grassland sugarbushes (Protea: Proteaceae). Plant Systematics and Evolution. 298: 857–869.
  4. Steenhuisen, S.L. and S.D. Johnson. 2012. The influence of pollinators and seed predation on seed production in dwarf grassland Protea “sugarbushes” (Proteaceae). South African Journal of Botany. 79: 77-83.
  5. Steenhuisen, S.L., H. van der Bank and S.D. Johnson. 2012. The relative contributions of insect and bird pollinators to outcrossing in an African Protea (Proteaceae). American Journal of Botany.99(6): 1104–1111.
  6. Steenhuisen, S.L., R.A. Raguso and S.D. Johnson. 2012. Floral scent in bird- and beetle-pollinated Protea species (Proteaceae): chemistry, emission rates and function. Phytochemistry. 84: 78–87.
  7. De Vega, C., B. Guzman, M-A. Lachance, S-L. Steenhuisen, S.D. Johnson and C.M. Herrera. 2012. Metschnikowia proteae sp. nov., a nectarivorous insect-associated yeast species from Africa. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 62: 2538–2545.
  8. Steenhuisen, S.L., A. Jürgens & S.D. Johnson. 2013. Effects of volatile compounds emitted by Protea species (Proteaceae) on antennal electrophysiological responses and attraction of cetoniine beetles. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 39 (3): 438-446.
  9. De Vega, C., B. Guzman, S-L. Steenhuisen, S.D. Johnson, C.M. Herrera and M-A. Lachance. 2014. Metschnikowia drakensbergensis sp. nov. and Metschnikowia caudata sp. nov., two endemic yeasts associated with Protea flowers in South Africa. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 64: 3724-3732.
  10. Steenhuisen, S.L., A. Balmer, K. Zoeller, N. Kuhn, J. Midgley, D. Hansen and S.D. Johnson. 2015. Carnivorous mammals feed on nectar of Protea species (Proteaceae) in South Africa and likely contribute to their pollination.  African Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/aje.12225