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Changing their behaviour

15 June 2020

Behaviour change and a hormonal link

Who could forget the fantastic visit or Carla Madelaire and Adriana Barsotti to the MeaseyLab back in January 2019 (see here)? The two spent only a few months in the lab, but worked super hard on a few experiments that drilled down into the relationship between hormones and behaviour of guttural toads when they are dehydrated.

Today sees the beginnings of all the fruit of their labors with the publishing of Carla's behavioural paper in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology!

This paper represents a significant step forwards as we show that after only 20 years of invasion into the dry conditions of Cape Town, Guttural Toads have changed the way that they think about water. When you find it, you stick with it! In this paper, Carla shows a link between this water finding behaviour and the hormone corticosterone. Adriana has another manuscript (submitted) that further investigates this phenomenon also with Guttural Toads. 

It was a great pleasure working with both of you and we look forward to more work and celebrations in the future (there will be cake & cachaça!). Last January, we celebrated their arrival (see here).

The intrepid duo catching toads in Durban with the all important yoghurt pot!

To read more about Carla and Adriana and their adventures in South Africa, see blog posts here, here, and back in Brazil here.

Madelaire, C.B., Barsotti, A.M.G., Wagener, C., Sugano, Y., Baxter-Gilbert, J., Gomes, F.R., Measey, J. (in press) Challenges of dehydration result in a behavioral shift in invasive toads. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology    https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-020-02866-5 pdf


Publicity for Biological Invasions in South Africa

05 June 2020

Publicity for our new book: Biological Invasions in South Africa

Today is Environment Day, and to celebrate, Brian van Wilgen has been given interviews to journalists about our new book: Biological Invasions in South Africa. Since the book was released free online in March (see blogpost here), the chapters have been downloaded 154 thousand times! 

Some of the great information shared in this book is about alien trees that consume ~5% of our scarce water resources, in South Africa. Invasive species pose a direct threat to the survival of almost half of 1 600 native species listed in South Africa’s Red Data List. The book provides information on 1 422 alien species including plants, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles & amphibians. 

A newpaper article in the Witness:

You can listen to Brian's interview on this podcast or this radio interview.


A very memorable and toady Cape Herp Club

08 April 2020

The Toad Team pull off a spectacular presentation for Cape Herp Club

In these times of uncertainty, there are opportunities to do things differently. Normally, the Cape Herp Club meets every other month in the lab of one of the host groups. This month, we couldn't meet as we are all confined to our homes to comply with the government emergency legislation to fight COVID-19.

As it was the MeaseyLab's turn to host the Cape Herp Club, we decided to have a whole bunch of talks about Guttural Toads, Sclerophrys gutturalis, and the work that the lab is currently engaged in. Because we weren't allowed to meet in person, we decided to do a video conference, and that allowed us more opportunities to get creative about the talks we could give.

Many blog readers will remember the visit of Carla & Adriana last year from Brazil (see blog entries here, here and here). You will also remember that last month, Max had to go back to Germany before finishing his experiment (see blog post here). We were able to invite them them all to participate in our presentation.

Interrogating an invasion: details on differences between native and invasive populations of Guttural Toads

Giovanni Vimercati (couldn't make it but sent a presentation from Switzerland)* - Insights from more invasions

James Baxter-Gilbert (in Stellenbosch) - Morphology and performance of native and invasive populations

Max Mühlenhaupt (in Berlin) - Breaching the gap: From egg to toad

Carla Madelaire (in Arizona) - Water seeking behaviour of native and invasive toads

Adriana Barsotti (couldn't make it but sent a presentation from Cyprus)* - Challenges of a novel range

Carla Wagener (in Bellville) - Shit don't lie

Sam Peta (in Stellenbosch) - Proposed work on dietary niche and trophic interactions

Natasha Kruger (in Mosel Bay) - Parasites of native and invasive populations

It was amazing to see more than 30 people join this Cape Herp Club meeting.

But because we didn't have to have people physically present, we could invite our collaborators from all over the world. 

In attendance were Guttural Toad collaborators:

Claudia Baider & Vincent Florens (Mauritius)

Morne du Plessis (Pretoria)

Fernando Ribiero Gomes (Sao Paulo)

Louis du Preez (Potchefstroom)

Of course, most people were alone in their houses, but a few were able to show us how (and how not) to do social distancing.


Keep productive during lockdown

03 April 2020

Making a schedule of work to do...

Lockdown has come to us all. At the time of writing, we (in South Africa) have just completed our first full week of lockdown due to the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. Almost everyone has returned home to self isolate. Some lab members are back with their families, others are in their accommodation in Stellenbosch. The university has closed its doors during this period, and all experiments and practical work has stopped. 

Whether we wanted it or not, we now have an opportunity to write up completed projects, or plan the work that we want to do. While the lockdown might come with many unwanted restrictions, it does allow all MeaseyLab members to concentrate on analysis and writing.

But how should we remain productive, or (for some of us) how do we even start getting into a productive cycle? 

Try to enjoy your lockdown period, and make it as productive as you can. Everyone has their own way of working, but if you are struggling here are some tips that I find useful:

Schedule your work & mix it up

There are some tasks that we have that are more fun than others, and it's nice to have something that you can look forward to. Thus, making a simple schedule for your work where you indicate what you are doing and when can really help.

  • Know when you are more productive, and plan accordingly
    • some of us work better first thing in the morning, and others in the evening. Get to know yourself and plan to do the difficult stuff when you're fresh - or warmed up!
  • Make a "To Do" list
    • this will help you know what some of the little tasks are as well as bigger blocks.
    • If you really only have one thing to do (e.g. write PhD proposal), then break this up into smaller workable chunks so that you can start ticking them off
    • don't underestimate the importance and satisfaction of ticking off items on a to do list. Put it up on your wall, use coloured pens. Anything that makes it more satisfying for you
  • Don't become a slave to any schedule that you make
    • when you are being really productive, don't stop just because your time is up. 
    • conversely, when you're failing on a task don't stay with it when its time is up. Move on and come back to it soon. Even when you aren't doing this task, your brain will continue working on the problem.
    • Some problems do much better after a nights sleep, so if something is really bugging you then distill it and read this summary before you go to bed. Let your brain work on it overnight and reflect on what you think in the morning. It's worth having a go!
  • Be aware of what eats into your time (e.g. social media!)
    • if you really need to do this, then put it into your schedule for a less productive time when you know that you'll be flagging. 
    • When it's not scheduled, keep it off your desktop and avoid having alerts on your phone
  • Be logical in what you choose to do when. 
    • Don't plan to write your results when you haven't analysed your data.
  • Include items that are non-work into your schedule: 
    • such as coffee/tea breaks, social media fixes or exercise slots, and communicate these with anyone that you are in lockdown with (especially if they are prone to interrupting your most productive periods).
    • and include little things like writing or updating your profile for this website or the CIB website. Part of remaining productive is achieving little things on your to do list, as well as the really big items.
  • Plan meetings with other lab members (on zoom, skype or whatsapp), and keep communicating with your advisor, even if it's just to check in. It does help to chat about what you are doing as it helps you to verbalise and forces you to put it into another perspective. 
  • Don't spend too much time in this scheduling - it could end up eating all your time!

Don't forget that there is information on writing elsewhere on this website: 


Meanwhile in Durban...

20 March 2020

Toad Olympics are over (not postponed), diet data collected and tadpoles have metamorphosed

Max had been hard at work on his experiment and has collected vast amounts of data. It has been a lot of work for Max. Let's remember where he came from, months ago, toads were laying eggs. Guttural toads were caught in their native range, and invasive toads (from Cape Town) were moved back up to their native Durban to breed.

In this common garden experiment, all of the toads were kept and bred in the same conditions. Max's interest was in the tadpoles, their time to development, performance on the way and their change into metamorphs.

So it's been quite a journey.

Meanwhile...

Sam has been flushing guts galore and building lots of traps for catching invertebrates to see what's available for the toads to eat.

Lastly, James has been making those toads run, jump and climb.

Above (right) you can see a toad that has succesfully climbed out of it's confinement. Below, a toad in an experiment to measure exploration behaviour dares to leave its hideout and venture around the arena.

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