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!


Monday, 26 June 2017

BioGaps Scorpions Fieldtrip



By Lorenzo Prendini

The first BioGaps Scorpion Fieldtrip was conducted during from 17 to 28 February, 2017, by Lorenzo Prendini, Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and field assistant, Reginald Christiaan, from Soebatsfontein, Namaqualand, Northern Cape. The trip was planned for the period between last quarter and first quarter of the lunar cycle in the summer, usually a time when scorpions are active and abundant at night in the Karoo.
Eleven compulsory 1 x 1 km2 sample sites were surveyed for scorpions. In an effort to collect scorpion species within pentads that were not found in the eleven compulsory sites, another twelve sites, falling within the eleven compulsory pentads and one noncompulsory pentad, were sampled in addition. Therefore, 23 georeferenced sites were sampled in total.

Collecting was conducted at night with ultraviolet (UV) light detection, and augmented by rock-rolling and burrow excavation during the daytime. UV light detection involves walking and scanning the ground with powerful long-wave UV-emitting LED flashlights. Work began at sunset and continued until midnight or later (ca. 2 am), depending on scorpion surface activity and weather conditions. Each sample site was traversed twice by both investigators, walking in different directions. All scorpions observed were captured with forceps and preserved directly in bottles of ethanol. Tracks walked within the compulsory sample sites were recorded with GPS.

Prendini and Christiaan camped out within many of the sample sites because this was more convenient for collecting throughout the night. However, in some cases, they stayed in nearby accommodation, mostly provided gratis by the landowners. At two farms, they camped overnight in a large skuur (shed) to avoid heavy rainfall. Landowners were very hospitable and interested in the project. Several invited Prendini and Christiaan in for coffee or dinner. Two couples accompanied the investigators into the field to collect scorpions at night! Unfortunately, cold and/or rainy weather on several nights, as well as extremely dry conditions following a prolonged drought across the western part of the Karoo, reduced the number of specimens collected to lower levels than expected. Scorpions were more abundant further east (notably in the Victoria West District), following recent rains.

The count of species collected per pentad varied from three to eight (average five), which is typical of the Karoo, based on a decade of research in the region by Prendini. Therefore, in spite of the weather, it appears that all or most of the species present in each pentad were recorded. The most diverse pentad, with three genera and eight species, was 3105_2245 (Biesiebult). This pentad included a considerable range-extension for Parabuthus nanus, previously known only from Bushmanland and southern Namibia. The diversity of this pentad may be attributed to the heterogeneity of the landscape, which provides a range of different habitats for scorpions, including rocky hills, sand plains, and clay pans.

Altogether, the identified material collected across the 23 sites and twelve pentads comprises sixteen species, in two families and three genera, i.e., two genera and eight species of thick-tailed scorpions (Buthidae: five species of Parabuthus and three species of Uroplectes) and eight species of burrowing scorpions (Scorpionidae: Opistophthalmus). The trip resulted in 106 presence-only records. Among the highlights were a possible new Opistophthalmus species and one of the smallest species of South African scorpions, Uroplectes ansiedippenaarae, both collected in the Tankwa Karoo.

Lorenzo Prendini and Reginald Christiaan thank the NRF BioGaps project for funding which supported expenses on the ground; Gigi Laidler for assistance with planning, logistics and contacting landowners; and the landowners for their hospitality and assistance: Elias and Elsje Basson, Johan and Carine Botes, Jaco de Bruyn, Hendrik and Melissa Cloete, Basie Esterhuyse, Loues and Sunette Hoon, Gerda Kellerman, Pieter, Carin and Elmer le Roux, Grant Middelton, Jan-Roux and Sandra Schlebusch, Tiaan Schoeman, Andre van der Merwe, Neil and Riaandra Viljoen, Hennie Visagie, Marge Vivier.


                                    Karoo campus site at dusk


Searching for scorpions in the Karoo

Lorenzo Prendini digging scorpion burrow


Opistophthalmus pallipes


Opistophthalmus burrow entrance


possible new species of Opistophthalmus from Tankwa Karoo


Uroplectes ansiedippenaarae


Uroplectes ansiedippenaarae with ant for size


Lorenzo Prendini holding Opistophthalmus burrowing scorpion


Reginald Christiaan holding Hadogenes rock scorpion close up


Stegodyphus social spider

Reginald Christiaan holding Hadogenes rock scorpion

Uroplectes carinatus



Monday, 8 May 2017

Karoo Biogaps experience


By Thaakira Samodien

Our first pentad was Rietfontein farm, South of Colesberg. The weather was extremely humid and the sun was at its peak while we were out in the field. The first plant species that stood out for me as we drove to our site was the Brunsvigia radulosa. Its shape, size and beautiful colour caught my eye immediately and I was in utter awe that such beauty exists in the Karoo. As we got to the site, we got all our equipment ready and started our day. I was amazed at how many different species there were that were flowering. Aspalathus, Selago, Hermannia, Jamesbrittenia, Gnidia, and lots of different grasses were some of the species that we collected on the first day. In total we found about over 130 species on the first day. 



























The second day was the best Karoo experience I had. This site was on Doornberg farm in Nieu Bethesda. It was a beautiful hot day and we found lots of special flowers. Although it was hot, it rained while we were in the field which made the day even more special. The site was a beautiful site; flat dry land with hill tops filled with lots of grasses. We reached a river area as well where we found different types of Cyperus and dragonflies. My favourite flower that we found on that site was a tiny little Hermannia species. We called it Hermannia candy-like, because its colour was a combination of white, yellow and a reddish-pink.






The next few days it rained quite a bit which made some of the sites very difficult to gain access to, but we still managed to collect some species on the wetter sites. 



We found some succulents and more grasses. We saw lots of different Aloes; Aloe ferox, Aloe broomii and Aloe striata. The flora field trip experience overall was amazing and fulfilling. Being a part of the BioGaps project has taught me a lot and it gives me motivation to do more to protect the flora of Southern Africa.