Zabentungwa’s PhD graduation in 2021
For Black History Month, the British Ecological Society (BES) journals are celebrating the work of Black ecologists from around the world and sharing their stories. The theme for UK Black History Month this year is Time for Change: Action Not Words. Zabentungwa Hlongwane—a biology lecturer at University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa—shares her story below.
How did you get into ecology?
My name is Zabentungwa Hlongwane and my main research interests are Entomophagy, Entomology, and Ecology. I am interested in the use of edible insects as a sustainable protein-rich food resource that can contribute to food and nutrition insecurity in resource-poor communities.
My interest in ecology started at an early age—I’ve always appreciated nature and its diversity. My interest in ecology has been mainly influenced by where I come from. I am from Bergville—a small village situated in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains—in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Growing up in this environment, I got to appreciate the diversity of plants and animals from an early age. This then led me to develop my passion for learning about the diversity of nature.
After finishing grade 12, I enrolled for a BSc in Environmental sciences which opened the doors to my ecology journey. During my undergraduate studies, we went on ecology field trips/excursions and field-based practicals which broadened my understanding of biodiversity and plant-animal interactions. After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to do my postgraduate degree in ecological sciences with a focus on entomology. My Master’s research focused on the response of ground-dwelling arthropods in different habitat types in KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld, South Africa, which was funded by eThekwini Municipality.
For my Ph.D., I wanted to do research that translated into meaningful knowledge that could be applied to address social needs, and provide recommendations on how to fight food and nutrition insecurity in South Africa. Hence, I developed a study investigating the use of edible insects as a food source and their potential for addressing food and nutrition insecurity in resource-poor communities. I was very proud that the research and results from my Ph.D. enabled me to publish four scientific papers (https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092786; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12010022; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources10120123; https://doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2021.0067 ) .
What are you researching/working on right now?
I am a biology lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I teach undergraduate and honours students. My current research focuses on nutritional content and consumer acceptability of food products enriched with edible insects.
The thing that I most enjoy about ecology is transferring knowledge to future ecologists and biologists. I also love the research part of my work.
I would like to collaborate and connect with researchers who are interested in entomophagy and the use of edible insects as a sustainable nutrient-rich food source that can alleviate food and nutrition insecurity in resource-poor communities.
Who are your role models—within ecology and beyond?
My role model is Dr. Caswell Munyai—who was my Ph.D. supervisor. I strongly admire his work ethic and dedication. I like how he supports and encourage his students to reach for the stars!
I would like to give my shout out to young black ecologists who are trying to find their feet in ecology-based jobs—particularly in academia.