John Simaika

Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation


John is Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation and coordinates the MSc specialization in Applied Aquatic Ecology for Sustainability (AAES). He graduated from the University of Victoria, Canada with a B.Sc. in Biology (Honours) and Anthropology (Major). He continued his studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, graduating with an M.Sc. (Entomology) focused on dragonflies as model organisms for developing and testing novel monitoring methods in freshwater conservation. Continuing his work on biomonitoring, John’s PhD (Conservation Ecology), also at Stellenbosch University, focussed on developing and testing the Dragonfly Biotic Index (DBI), a rapid assessment index for South African streams. The remainder of John’s Ph.D. focused on conservation planning of aquatic macroinvertebrates of South Africa and Africa. For his work on the DBI, John was awarded the Marsh Award for an Early Career Entomologist.

As a result of his expertise, John is a member of the IUCN Freshwater Conservation Sub-Committee, the IUCN Species Monitoring Specialist Group and the IUCN Dragonfly Specialist Group. John has authored 36 peer-reviewed publications in international journals, two in local journals, four book chapters, and one book. He serves as Associate Editor of the African Journal of Aquatic Science.

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Research Summary

Aquatic biomonitoring & species prioritization

This area of research is a long-standing focus and feeds into the other research interests below. Biological monitoring, or the inventory of, and medium to long-term observation of species presences (richness) and their numbers (abundances) are important for informing all sorts of resource management decisions (protection of species, ecological reserves) down the line. How and when species are monitored, how effective different existing indices are, and how much monitoring is needed are major management concerns. Species prioritization, which should be based on good observation data seeks to optimize the space set aside for species populations to persist in the land- and waterscape.

Biomonitoring using the Dragonfly Biotic Index
Vorster, C., Samways, M.J., Simaika, J.P., Kipping, J., Clausnitzer, V., Suhling, F. and Dijkstra, K.D., 2020. Development of a new continental-scale index for freshwater assessment based on dragonfly assemblages. Ecological Indicators, 109, p.105819.

Samways, M. J. and J. P. Simaika. 2016. Handbook of freshwater assessment: the South African Biotic Index. South African National Botanical Institute. pp.224.

Simaika, J. P. and M. J. Samways. 2012. Advances in monitoring and prioritizing riverine habitats for conservation using biotic indices. Organisms Diversity and Evolution 12: 251-259. DOI:

Simaika, J. P. and M. J. Samways. 2011. Comparative assessment of indices of freshwater habitat conditions using different invertebrate taxon sets. Ecological Indicators 11: 370-378. DOI:

Biomonitoing (general)
Stephenson, P.J., Y. Ntiamoa-Baidu, J.P. Simaika. 2020. The use of traditional and modern tools for monitoring wetlands biodiversity in Africa: challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in Environmental Science

Schmeller, D., M. Bohm, C. Arvanitidis, S. Barber-Meyer, … J. P. Simaika, et al. 2017. Building capacity in biodiversity monitoring at the global scale. Biodiversity and Conservation 26: 2765–2790. DOI:

Species prioritization (spatial analysis, species distribution modelling)
Simaika, J. P., M. J. Samways, J. Kipping, F. Suhling, K.-D. B Dijkstra, V. Clausnitzer, J. P. Boudot and S. Domisch. 2013. Continental-scale conservation prioritization of dragonflies. Biological Conservation 157: 245-254.

Simaika, J. P. and M. J. Samways. 2015. Predicted range shifts of dragonflies over a wide elevation gradient in the southern hemisphere. Freshwater Science 34: 1133-1143.

Freshwater ecology and conservation

The topic is as broad as the title suggests, and spans all sorts of habitats from natural wetlands and rivers to artificial dams and ponds and not only macroinvertebrates but also fish. The latter habitats are particularly important, as they are often regarded as ‘bad’ habitats. However, as my work shows, they do have enormous value, especially if relatively stable and well-vegetated.

Conservation of aquatic invertebrates (tropics)
Sundar, S., Heino, J., Roque, F.D.O., Simaika, J.P., Melo, A.S., Tonkin, J.D., Gomes Nogueira, D. and Silva, D.P., 2020. Conservation of freshwater macroinvertebrate biodiversity in tropical regions. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI:

Artificial ponds
Simaika, J.P., M.J. Samways and P.P. Frenzel. 2016. Artificial ponds increase local dragonfly diversity in a global biodiversity hotspot. Biodiversity and Conservation 10: 1921–1935. DOI

Stream restoration
Simaika, J. P., S. Stoll, A. W. Lorenz, G. Thomas, A. Sundermann, and P. Haase. 2015. Bundles of stream restoration measures and their effects on fish communities. Limnologica

Landscape Conservation / Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture seeks to balance productive and healthy agricultural plots with the maintenance of vital ecosystem services as well as the conservation of species. Thus it becomes more appropriate to think of the agricultural landscape as a mosaic of habitats in which populations of species persist.

Simaika, J.P., M.J. Samways, and S.M. Vrdoljak. 2018. Species turnover in plants does not predict turnover in flower-visiting insects. PeerJ 6:e6139 DOI:

Vrdoljak, S., M.J. Samways, and J.P. Simaika. 2016. Pollinator conservation at the local scale: role of flower density, diversity and community structure in attracting flower visiting insects to mixed floral stands. Journal of Insect Conservation 20: 771-721. DOI:

Magoba, R.N., M.J. Samways, and J.P. Simaika. 2015. Soil compaction and its effect on surface-active arthropods in natural, transformed and restoring vegetation. Journal of Insect Conservation 19: 501-508. DOI:

Citizen science, conservation psychology and marketing and insect extinction

Undoubtedly, humans have pervasive and irreversible effects on the environment globally. Not all is doom and gloom, however, and scientists worldwide are not only documenting decline, but are also providing solutions. Part and parcel of this is to engage citizens in (bio)monitoring, and to engage the general public in conservation. Research in conservation psychology and marketing can help with this.

Conservation psychology and citizen science
Simaika, J.P., M.J. Samways. 2018. Insect conservation psychology. Journal of Insect Conservation DOI:

Clausnitzer, V, J.P. Simaika, M.J. Samways and B.A. Daniel. 2017. Dragonflies as flagships for sustainable use of water resources in environmental education, Applied Environmental Education & Communication 16: 196-209. DOI:

Insect extinctions and conservation solutions
Cardoso, P., Barton, P.S., Birkhofer, K., Chichorro, F., Deacon, C., Fartmann, T., Fukushima, C.S., Gaigher, R., Habel, J.C., Hallmann, C.A., Hill, M.J., Hochkirch, A., Kwak, M.L., Mammola, S., Ari, J., Or, A.B., Pedraza, F., Pryke, J.S., Roque, F.O., Settele, J., Simaika, J.P., Stork, N.E., Suhling, F., Vorster, C., Samways, M.J., 2020. Scientists ’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions 17. DOI:    

Samways, M.J., Barton, P.S., Birkhofer, K., Chichorro, F., Deacon, C., Fartmann, T., Fukushima, C.S., Gaigher, R., Habel, J.C., Hallmann, C.A., Hill, M.J., Hochkirch, A., Kaila, L., Kwak, M.L., Maes, D., Mammola, S., Noriega, J.A., Or, A.B., Pedraza, F., Pryke, J.S., Roque, F.O., Settele, J., Simaika, J.P., Stork, N.E., Suhling, F., Vorster, C., Cardoso, P., 2020. Solutions for humanity on how to conserve insects. DOI:   

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