John Simaika PhD

Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation


With an already deep affinity for the protection of the environment, and a broad interest in the biological sciences, John studied at the University of Victoria, Canada, graduating with a B.Sc. in Biology (Honours) and Anthropology (Major). He continued his studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, with his M.Sc. (Entomology) focused on dragonflies as model organisms for developing and testing methods in freshwater conservation. For his MSc, he worked on developing and testing the Dragonfly Biotic Index (DBI) a rapid assessment index for South African streams, work which he continued for his PhD research. The remainder of John’s Ph.D. focused on conservation planning. The spatial planning work concerned reserve selection using South African aquatic macroinvertebrates and habitat suitability modeling under projected future climate change scenarios in South Africa, and analysis of the representativeness of the continental African network of protected areas of aquatic biodiversity.

John is currently working on the development and comparative assessment of wetland assessment tools using dragonflies, for use by citizen scientists in the Lake Victoria region of East Africa. He and his students are also working on diverse projects such as disentangling the impacts invasive alien plants have on water quality and aquatic macroinvertebrates in mountain streams of South Africa,.

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 27 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.

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 (A), 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 some central questions that I aim to answer. Species prioritization (B), 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.

Recent papers on the topic:

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

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.

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.

B. Species prioritization (spatial analysis)
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 regarded as ‘bad’ habitats in people’s minds. However, as my work shows, they do have some value, especially if vegetated.

Simaika, J.P., M. J. Samways and P.P. Frenzel. 2016. Local dragonfly biodiversity is increased by reservoirs in a dry global biodiversity hotspot. Biodiversity and Conservation DOI 10.1007/s10531-016-1168-9.

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 <doi></doi&gt;.

Apinda-Legnouo, E. A., M. J. Samways, and J. P. Simaika. 2014. Value of artificial ponds for aquatic beetle and bug conservation in the Cape Floristic Region biodiversity hotspot. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Biodiversity 24: 522-535.

Landscape Conservation / Sustainable Agriculture

This is an emerging central topic to my research. Watch this space for new papers on arthropods in soils! Agriculture is highly dependent on species for ecosystem services, including wild pollinators. Yet, by its very nature, agriculture pushes the very species it depends out of the landscape. 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, or a habitat matrix, in which populations of species persist.

Recent papers on the topic:
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: 10.1007/s10841-016-9904-8

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.


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