Friday, 16 February 2018

Mammal surveys for BioGaps

By Zoe Woodgate

As we enter 2018 the mammal team has had ample opportunity to reflect on its part SANBI’s Karoo BioGaps project thus far. The two fieldwork leaders for “team mammals”, Nadine Hassan and myself, have been both gathering and analysing data from 25 sites scattered across the karoo over the past year. At the various sites Nadine has been utilising sherman small mammal traps, whilst I’ve been setting up camera traps. Together we hope to create a comprehensive picture of what drives mammal diversity across the karoo.

Whilst we wrapped up much of fieldwork in March 2017, with the final 5 sites to be collected in the upcoming weeks, the experience has left deep impressions upon us. Each farm was drastically different from the next. Since we camped for much of our journey we often privy to majestic vistas. There is something magical about being isolated in the karoo veld, especially after experiencing the cramped city.

Yet the hospitality of the farmers involved in the project cannot be understated. Often we stayed at their personal residences, or were lent a helping hand by an enthusiastic farm manager. One incident stands out above the rest. At a farm nearby Adelaide our 4x4 trailer got stuck in mud after a sudden rainstorm. Unable to delay fieldwork for another day we left it there, vowing to return after completing our planned fieldwork. We arrived at the next farm tired, dirty and miserable. Not only did the trailer contain the various supplies that made living on the road comfortable, it was itself our large tent. We were eternally grateful when the farmer and his lovely wife ushered us indoors to warm beds, coffee and hearty meals.

Happily, all 25 sites have produced beautiful datasets. Nadine in particular has gathered great records of all the small mammal species she encountered. One of her favourite species to encounter was the pygmy mouse (Mus minutoides)- a cute, fluffy little species that never failed to bring a smile to her face. Namaqua Rock Mouse (Micaelamys namaquensis) was one of the more common species, and could be found hiding in the more rockier habitats. Nadine also retrieved samples for further DNA analysis- some of the shrew and mice species are indistinguishable from their morphology.

A tiny pygmy mouse (Mus minutoides) being measured
Young Rock mouse (Micaelamys spp.) enjoying a bite under the sun
The (slow) work of camera trapping is also producing interesting results. As is to be expected, several types of domestic livestock dominated the landscape. Sheep, the most commonly farmed animal in the area, were found at over 17 sites. However, despite the large numbers of livestock present, indigenous species occurred across the range in varying abundances. Springbok, kudu, hares and common duiker all made regular appearances.

Sheep were the most commonly photographed animals on the camera traps
Springbok enjoying a cloudy morning

In the upcoming months not only will we be teasing apart the patterns of species diversity and distribution across the karoo, but also presenting our work at various conferences. Nadine has already attended the Southern African Wildlife Management Association conference in 2017, and her talk was well received. 

Nadine Hassan presenting her work at SAWMA 2017

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