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. 
















Thursday, 4 May 2017

Behind the scene supporters of Team Spider-by Robin Lyle

Fieldwork is the fun, hard and dirty part of an arachnologist’s job. However, have you ever wondered what happens to the spiders once they are collected? As part of the Karoo BioGap project, all spiders collected are deposited into the National Collection of Arachnida (NCA) that is housed in the Biosystematics building at the Agricultural Research Council.
Background of the collection
The National Collection of Arachnida (non-Acari) was established in 1976, the under Plant Protection Research Institute, which later became the Agricultural Research Council. It was established by Dr Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman and is a comprehensive and fast growing collection in South Africa. It contains 70,200 accessions represented by approximately 210,600 alcohol-preserved specimens. Sampling of spiders has focused mainly on South Africa.
The NCA is one of South Africa’s Agricultural National Public Assets and it is maintained on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The collection contains a wealth of information, ranging from taxonomic names, biological and biogeographical information.

Process of accessioning a specimen
A specimen collected in the field follows a set procedure before it is included in the NCA. These steps are as follows:
1.       Specimens are sorted and placed into a glass container suitable for the collection.
2.       Specimen is identified to include order, family, genus and species name, where possible.
3.       Specimen information is written into a catalogue and given a unique accession number.
4.       Correct locality and identification labels, including accession number, are generated.
5.       Specimen and all associated data is captured into the NCA database.
6.       Specimen is stored in the collection.

The people behind the scene at NCA

The growth and upkeep of the collection is always ongoing. The National Collection of Arachnida is lucky to have a small team that helps in this task.

 Ezekia Sgudhla (left), Joel Mooka (middle) and Sma Chiloane (right) help with different aspects of accessioning a specimen. Responsibilities include basic sorting, label generation and identification to family level. 

Petro Marais (left), the collection manager of the National Collection of Arachnida, and Maggie Menyatso (right) who is responsible for databasing accessioned specimens.