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


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

BioGaps Transcribe prize winner for November

The BioGaps top transcriber for the period October to November has been selected:
 
Well done and a big thank you to Latoya Keebine (once again) who transcribed 65 specimen label images!

As a prize she has selected the book "Identification guide to the southern African grasses. An identification manual with keys, descriptions and distributions".

Latoya has this to say about her transcribing experiences:

My experiences transcribing by Galaletsang Latoya Keebine, Science Education Engagement Intern
 
I began transcribing to expand my knowledge on various plant names and to help ensure that scientists, including future ones, have a digital platform which they can use for referrals and reference materials. Plant taxonomy was one of my majors for my BSc. in Biology and Geography from North-West University.

Thus I was mostly familiar with trees and grasses of the savanna biome. Prior to me transcribing, my ability to identify plants in the field was somewhat limited to those plants in the arid savanna. Transcribing has now given me the ability to identify plants which I previously wouldn’t have known.

My transcribing journey did not start off as an easy one. The first few records which I transcribed, I did completely incorrectly. The hand written labels on the other hand were also not very easy to decipher, so you can imagine my constant looks of confusion each time I across them. For that reason I was steadfast to solely transcribing the typed labels in the beginning. Luckily for me, Dr Silvia Kirkman validated some of my transcribed records, and gave me much needed tips on how to transcribe. These tips ensured that I transcribe with more accuracy and ease, so I also began transcribing the hand written species labels.

I spare a couple of hours to transcribe a week, hence I am surprised that I am once again the top transcriber. It is evident that just a few hours make the biggest difference. I will continue to transcribe to ensure that the digital herbarium does become a success.

Well done Latoya!

There will be more prizes given for the top transcribers at the end of January 2018 and end of March 2018. The winners will be announced shortly after the end of each period. Prizes can include books, National Botanical Garden entries, and Kirstenbosch Summer Concert tickets.

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

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. There are also many bee and grasshopper specimen labels that require transcribing.

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, 6 November 2017

BioGaps digitiser jets off to New York


One of the BioGaps digitisers, Tebogo Ledwaba, was fortunate to be sent to New York for some BioGaps work. Tebogo started her digitising work at Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (formerly Transvaal Museum) in Pretoria towards the end of 2016, where she assisted with bee and grasshopper imaging (both from Ditsong and the Agricultural Research Centre). Once her work was completed there, in September this year she jetted off to New York for six weeks, to assist with digitising important South African scorpion specimens curated at the American Natural History Museum. She was supervised by scorpion expert Dr Lorenzo Prendini. Here is what she has to say about her exciting trip:

“I am a digitiser with the BioGaps Project, based at the Ditsong museum. During the months of September and October 2017 the project gave me an opportunity to visit and work at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. I was hosted by the Curator of Arachnida & Myriapoda, Division of Comparative Biology, Dr. Lorenzo Prendini. He went out of his way to make me feel at home and was supportive the entire time.


The purpose of the visit was to digitise the South African scorpion specimens in their collection. In the six weeks spent there, I checked and verified 2 210 data records as well as inventoried 1 389 new records.

This trip was truly an amazing experience for me. I got to experience the big apple live and visited many places. I met and made contacts that will forever be useful in my career. 

Pio Colmenares, Ivan Magalhaes, Lorenzo Prendini, Tebogo Ledwaba,  
Louis Sorkin, Gerardo Contreras and Rodrigo Monjaraz.

I lived in New Jersey, East Orange and traveled for about an hour to the AMNH by the NJ transit. I was able to visit, amongst other places, the New York Time Square, The Madison Square, Brooklyn, Manhattan parks and the art museums. I also discovered that I love Asian food.

I wish to express my gratitude to the BioGaps Project, the AMNH and the relevant staff members who were all very helpful and eager to help in any way they could. My visit would not have been a success and as enjoyable without all the generous support provided by all these people. Special thanks to Barbara Green, the director of Government Grants at AMNH for all the help offered with regard to visa related issues.”

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

BioGaps Transcribe has new prize winner for September

The BioGaps top transcriber for the month of September has been selected:

Well done and a big thank you to Latoya Keebine who transcribed 78 label images!

As a prize she has selected the book "The Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland".

Latoya is based in Kimberley at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Arid Lands Node, as a science education intern under the DST-NRF internship programme.

There will be more prizes given for the top transcribers at the end of November 2017, end of January 2018 and end of March 2018. The winners will be announced shortly after the end of each period. Prizes can include books, National Botanical Garden entries, and Kirstenbosch Summer Concert tickets.

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

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. There are also many bee and grasshopper specimen labels that require transcribing.

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.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

BioGaps top transcriber and upcoming prizes

The recently launched Transcribe website has attracted a number of volunteers who are assisting the BioGaps project in transcribing information on plant and animal specimen labels into a digital and thus useable format. We have 23 active volunteer transcribers. BioGaps digitisers and SANBI interns are also assisting with transcribing labels.

Label being transcribed


We appreciate all the valuable assistance provided by the volunteers! As such, we have awarded a prize to the volunteer who transcribed the most label images up until the end of August:

Well done and a big thank you to Lisa Hugo who transcribed 379 label images!

As a prize she has selected the book "Beeplants of South Africa".




BioGaps is EXCITED to announce that the project will be awarding prizes to the top volunteer transcribers at the end of September 2017, end of November 2017, end of January 2018 and end of March 2018. The winners will be announced shortly after the end of each period. Time is short for the September prize - so let's see who can transcribe the most this month!

Prizes can include books, National Botanical Garden entries, and Kirstenbosch Summer Concert tickets.

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. There are also many bee and grasshopper specimen labels that require transcribing.

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.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Karoo BioGaps Project Mid-project report on fieldwork, July 2017



This report was done mainly as feedback for the landowners involved in the project, but we hope that all friends of the Karoo BioGaps Project will find this an interesting report to read.  The fieldwork is one part of the project and the other aspect to the project, the digitisation of museum and herbarium records, is also progressing well. We look forward to bringing you more updates in future. Click here for full report. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Karoo Biogaps Project Needs Your Help

by Silvia Kirkman 

You can help the Karoo biogaps project by transcribing data from museum and herbaria collections using the online platform http://transcribe.sanbi.org/

Why do we need help transcribing? 

There are thousands of historical museum and herbaria specimens collected before the time of computers! The information in these specimen records is critical to understand previous distribution patterns of species, but the information is inaccessible if it remains in hard copy only. We need to digitise all museum and herbaria records so that scientists can analyse the data. Photographs of the specimen have been uploaded onto this website, but we need your help to type the data from the specimen label into the database. By doing this transcribing, you are helping to make species information as old as 1830 available to scientists and the general public!