Photo: Bruce Anderson

© 2016 biological interactions

Department of Botany and Zoology


biological interactions

Prof. Bruce Anderson

My broad career path was settled when I was just a toddler…  While other children played cops and robbers, I upended rocks, adamant that I would become an entomologist and not a policeman.  But my world was upended in my second year of university when the then-“Young Guns” of South African Botany (Jeremy Midgley, William Bond and Peter Linder) hijacked my mind with plants, a kingdom which had previously escaped my attention.  Their brand of hypothesis-driven field science excited me and profoundly influenced how I teach and conduct research.  They taught me to be critical, creative and questioning, and demonstrated how science can be a source of mental and physical adventure. My first love is the field, observing organisms in their natural environments, inventing hypotheses and testing them by means of experiments. I am driven by the desire to understand why organisms look the way they do, and how they are adapted to their biotic and abiotic environments. Studying pollination biology, herbivory and seed dispersal, I get to delve into the interactions between plants, insects and other animals, daily exploring a world even more intricate and complex than the one imagined by my three-year-old self.

Non-academic interests: climbing, hiking, fishing, photography, spear fishing, surfing, travel


Without animals, plants would look quite different.  For example, flowers would not be designed to catch the eye and the world would be a less colourful place. Animals too, would not exist as we know them; birds would not have long beaks and tongues to sip nectar and many moths, flies and butterflies would also have very different feeding mouthparts.  I am interested in evolutionary ecology and the adaptations of plants and animals to their environments. Much of my previous and current research focusses on geographic variability in the biotic and abiotic environment, which has enabled me to study how the evolutionary paths of plants and animals are shaped by each other and their abiotic habitats. In particular, geographically variable interactions often result in geographic divergence of morphology which can ultimately result in speciation events.  More recently we have developed a technique to mark pollen grains with fluorescent particles, enabling us to follow the fates of pollen in time and space.  This has opened up exciting, new research possibilities allowing us to explore the ways in which components of male fitness (pollen deposition) drive floral evolution.

Current Research

Post-doctoral fellows:

Dr Marinus de Jager


PhD students:

Ethan Newman

Corneile Minnaar


M.Sc. students:

Genevieve Theron

Ben Weighill

Post-docs & Students

Anderson B, Ros P, Wiese TJ and Ellis AG. 2015.  Intraspecific divergence and convergence of floral tube length in specialized pollination interactions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 281: 20141420,


Newman E, Manning J and Anderson B. 2015. Local adaptation: Mechanical fit between floral ecotypes of Nerine humilis (Amaryllidaceae) and pollinator communities. Evolution 69: 2262-2275


Rusch UD, Midgley JJ, Anderson B. 2013. Rodent consumption and caching behaviour selects for specific seed traits. South African Journal of Botany 84: 83-87


Newman EL, Anderson B, Johnson SD 2012. Flower colour Adaptation in a mimetic orchid. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 279: 2309-2313. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2375


De Waal C, Barrett SCH, Anderson B. 2012. The effect of mammalian herbivory on inflorescence architecture in ornithophilous Babiana (Iridaceae): Implications for the evolution of a bird perch. American Journal of Botany 99: 1096-1103.


Anderson B, Ellis AG and Terblanche J.  2010. Predictable patterns of trait mismatches between interacting plants and insects. BMC Evolutionary Biology 10(1), art. 204


Anderson B and Johnson SD. 2009. Geographical covariation and local convergence of flower depth in a guild of fly-pollinated plants. New Phytologist 182: 533-540.


Anderson B and Johnson SD. 2008. The geographical mosaic of coevolution in a plant-pollinator mutualism. Evolution 62: 220-225.


Anderson B and Johnson SD.  2006. The effects of floral mimics on each others’ fitness.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 273: 969-974.


Anderson B, Cole WW and Barrett SCH.  2005.  Specialized bird perch aids cross-pollination. Nature 435: 41-42.


Anderson B and Midgley JJ. 2002.  It takes two to tango but three is a tangle: mutualists and cheaters on the carnivorous plant Roridula. Oecologia 132: 369-373.