Friday, 19 June 2020

Karoo BioGaps Project wraps up

The FBIP and SANBI is pleased to announce that the Karoo BigGaps Project has come to an end.
The aim of the Karoo BioGaps Project was to assemble foundational species data in the Karoo region.
This was done by undertaking new fieldwork, digitising and georeferencing historical data found in South Africa’s museums and herbaria.
It also involved sequencing tissue samples to obtain DNA barcodes, compiling information for species pages, and conducting Red List assessments for certain species.
Through this work a better understanding was gained on which species were widespread, and which were very rare and in need of protection.
Hence it was possible to determine which habitats in the Karoo would be sensitive to proposed future changes in land use and development.
The project’s Final Report has been submitted to the National Research Foundation (NRF) in accordance with the FBIP Framework guidelines.

Thank you’s

The Karoo BioGaps Project was undertaken from 2016 to 2019 and involved over 20 institutions led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
The Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) thanks all of the people who were involved in the Karoo BioGaps Project.
These include the landowners, scientists, specimen curators, digitisers, georeferencers and people who have liked our page and those who have interacted.
Articles reporting on findings and the highlights of the project will be published on the FBIP website and be shared on FBIP social media pages.

Monday, 3 December 2018

The mammal team wraps up its operations

By Zoe Woodgate

As 2018 draws to a closer to the end, the mammal team wraps up its operations. The last two years have been filled with fieldwork, data processing and analysis. The mammal team, led by Nadine Hassan and Zoe Woodgate, have dedicated months to the project. Medium to large mammals (such as impala) were surveyed at 30 sites, whilst small mammals (like elephant shrew) were surveyed at 25 sites. Sadly, as sampling for small mammals requires live trapping, it is far more dependent on climatic conditions and so we were unable to sample the final five sites. However, the small mammal dataset was bolstered by key museum and institutional databases. 21 400 records were used to investigate historical patterns of small mammal diversity in South Africa.

Zoe Woodgate and Nadine Hassan

41 larger mammal species were recorded across the 30 sites using camera trapping. 270 cameras were operational for a minimum of 30 days across all the sites, producing a dataset of over 70 000 photographic captures. These included the more common karoo species, such as steenbok or meerkat, and some rarities like black-footed cat. We did not get any photographs of the critically endangered riverine rabbit, to the disappointment of Zoe. However the diversity of species captured was astounding, and the many antics caught on camera were a delight to all. There was the notable absence of large carnivores (such as leopards and hyenas) from any of the sites that were visited. Of course this is unsurprising, given that commercial farming dominates the karoo landscape. Preliminary work on the dataset suggests that this land use has little impact on the diversity of mammal species, as species diversity was not affected by live stocking rates. More complex models will tease apart the drivers of diversity in the upcoming months.

Having a quick munch after release
Elephant shrew perched on Nadines leg

Nadine’s work on the small mammal dataset has been encouraging. There have been many new and exciting discoveries A total of 11 rodents, 4 elephant-shrews and 1 shrew species were recorded. However initial DNA work has uncovered cryptic species not thought to occur at the 25 sites. One was the addition of two novel locations for a recently described species- Elephantulus pilicaudus. Nadine is currently investigating whether historical land use in the karoo shaped the present small mammal community. 

All this work would not have been possible without the kindness and generosity of the karoo farmers. Their compassion cannot be understated, and their love for the land was beautiful to behold. We wish to thank them for opening their homes to us and allowing us to work on their property. The BioGaps team have been fantastic as well, and in particular we thank Gigi Laidler and Carol Poole for their hard-work and assistance.

A sneaky aardwolf answering the call of nature


Saturday, 9 June 2018

BioGaps Transcribe winners for February to March 2018

The BioGaps top transcriber for the period February to March has been selected:
Well done and a big thank you to Phumlani Cimi who transcribed 292 specimen label images!

Phumlani is based at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. He loves sharing information with groups of young and old who are learning about plants. He enjoys curating the herbarium, doing research, attending conferences, and publishing in peer reviewed journals. He takes a few hours of his time to join the team of volunteers in transcribing herbarium specimen labels for the BioGaps project.

Phumlani in his happy environment

We appreciate all the valuable assistance provided by the Transcribe volunteers! Anyone anywhere can become involved. To join this fun activity, go toTranscribe:

BioGaps digitisers are working hard every day imaging hundreds of plant specimens and their labels. We need all the help we can get in transcribing these records and making them digitially available for research and conservation.

The Transcribe platform helps us fill in gaps in biodiversity knowledge for our precious Karoo region. This information will help guide future conservation and development activities (e.g. shale gas exploration) in the Karoo. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Bees are fussy creatures - By Connal Eardley

Bees are fussy creatures. They mostly only emerge from their cozy little homes when they need food for their offspring or for themselves, and when the weather is good. Therefore, if there are no flowers and it is windy or rainy, they hang out at home. They are cold-blooded animals so they don’t need food to maintain their body temperature. Therefore, bee collecting is weather dependent.

Wilgebosch on a good collecting day

Wilgebosch on a poor collecting day

Those bees that feed on flowers of only a few different plant species must synchronize their activity with flower availability. They only emerge when their food plants are available. Therefore, bee collecting also depends on those environmental factors that determine anthesis (the opening of flowers). Mounting evidence shows that, even though bee emergence and anthesis are synchronized, they use different cues. Consequently there is rising concern that climate change may cause some bees and plants to be out of sync with each other.    

Further, bee populations are dynamic. They rise and fall depending on factors like predation, parasitism, and nesting substrate. Therefore, collecting at any given place will differ between seasons and years. Nevertheless, there are usually a few diehards that survive, no matter what. They are often generalists that feed on many different plant species, have few specific nesting material requirements and are highly mobile. This enables them to recolonize areas quickly.

Hence, whatever bees one collects, there are always many more that are hiding away in their nests or that will recolonize from neighboring areas in a year or two.

The BioGaps kilometer square on Taaiboschfontein had few bees to offer, as did most of the surrounding area. The veld was dry and a gentle breeze descended the kloof. However, further afield was Karoo-bee Mecca. An old silted-up farm dam awash with flowers and bees – both in diversity and abundance, including some unexpected bees. Bees don’t fit nicely into boxes and successful collecting requires discovering bee-friendly sites. Because bees are highly mobile animals these sites sample a much larger area than immediately apparent.