Mr Byron Sonnekus Sonnekus
I obtained my undergraduate degree in Microbiology at the University of Pretoria. In 2018 I joined the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) as an Honours student within the Macadamia Protection Programme. My research project focused on identifying the causal agent(s) of macadamia husk rot, a fungal disease of the pericarp, in South Africa.
I completed my MSc as part of the Macadamia Protection Programme under the primary supervision of Dr Gerda Fourie and co-supervision of Prof Brett Hurley and Prof Bernard Slippers. My research focused on the stink bug complex (Heteroptera: Pentatomidae) which is of major concern to macadamia growers in South Africa. My research aim was to determine the diversity of stink bug species present in different macadamia orchards in the main growing regions of South Africa and to establish a molecular barcoding database of these species. Additionally, my research also focused on the species diversity of the egg parasitoids (Hymenoptera: Scelionidae) associated with the stink bugs and their potential use as biocontrol agents.
I am currently a PhD candidate conducting research which focuses on developing and using molecular diagnostic tools to detect the causative agents of dry flower disease of macadamia in South Africa. This disease is currently poorly understood in South Africa and there is a lack of diagnostic tools for the streamlined identification of the Neopestalotiopsis and Pestalotiopsis pathogens. The aim of my research is to determine the presence or absence of these pathogens on macadamia flowers and leaves as flower development progresses as well as developing an in-field diagnostic tool to detect these pathogens. My research will also focus on linking the optimal climatic conditions for flower development to the conducive conditions for dry flower disease incidence. This work will contribute towards accurate and rapid identification of dry flower pathogens as well as the timing of fungicide application.