Photo: Jurene Kemp

© 2016 biological interactions

PhD student with A.G. Ellis

Department of Botany and Zoology


biological interactions

Jurene E. Kemp

Growing up in the Cape instilled an innate love for the outdoors in me. I’ve also always enjoyed science, and the way it encourages curiosity and creativity rather than attempt to limit or suppress it. Ecology was the clear combination of enjoying the outdoors whilst challenging my mind. I have become fascinated by how interactions between various groups of organisms shape the course of their evolution. Particularly, I am interested in how community context, and not just pairwise interactions, drives evolution. My focus lies primarily with the response of plants to the various groups of insects they interact with – pollinators, herbivores and florivores – and the trade-offs between various adaptations. I use landscape-level modelling, network analysis, community-level experiments and lab-based trials to answer various questions. Previous work focused on the landscape-level diversity patterns created by the association between the Restionaceae (a dominant plant family in the Cape Floristic Region) and their insect herbivores, and elucidating the mechanisms that structure this association. Current work focuses on floral specialisation, with particular focus on the effects of antagonistic interactions and secondary pollinators on the pollination mutualism.


I am investigating the evolution of floral specialisation to pollinators by using a community-level perspective rather than focusing on pairwise interactions. Gorteria diffusa is an annual daisy that flowers during the annual spring mass flowering displays in the Namaqualand, South Africa. This plant has a variety of floral forms, occurring in different community complexity contexts and exhibiting varying levels of specialisation. I am examining the evolution of specialisation by focusing on both a specialist G. diffusa morph occurring in a complex community (high plant and insect species richness and abundances) and a generalist morph occurring in a less complex community. By constructing multiple interaction networks and manipulating community complexity, I aim to determine whether specialization is adaptive or not, and whether mutualistic or antagonistic interactions are selecting for specialization. To identify which traits that are involved in decreasing the fundamental pollination niche, I perform lab-based choice experiments with the dominant pollinator and a non-visiting potential pollinator.

Current Research

Kemp, J.E., Evans, D.M., Augustyn, W.J. & Ellis, A.G. (2017) Invariant antagonistic network structure despite high spatial and temporal turnover of interactions. Ecography, doi: 10.1111/ecog.02150.

Kemp, J.E., Ellis, A.G. (2017) Significant Local-Scale Plant-Insect Species Richness Relationship Independent of Abiotic Effects in the Temperate Cape Floristic Region Biodiversity Hotspot. PloS ONE 12(1): e0168033. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168033