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Jean Secondi visits the MeaseyLab

18 October 2019

Jean Secondi visits from U Angers

Natasha Kruger has spent the past 3 years spending Summer in South Africa, and then spending the next Summer in Angers with Jean Secondi. We’ve featured some of this travelling on the MeaseyLab blog before (see here and here), and also some of the work that Natasha produced (see here). 

Finally, after 3 years of waiting, Jean visited Stellenbosch to familiarise himself with the native habitat ofXenopus laevis(which he knows all too well from years of studies on the invasion in France), to spend some important time working with Natasha, and to attend the African Amphibian Working Group (AAWG) in George. 

We took Jean along on a long weekend to our long term monitoring site for the Cape Platanna in Kleinmond. Sadly, we didn’t find any African clawed frogs in their usual hauntings and all of the Kleinmond sites that normally containedXenopus gilliwere completely dry. We did however, manage to sample a site with Cape platannas in Betty’s Bay. We even found one animal that Andre de Villiers had marked way back in 2014!

It was great having Jean visit the lab, and we really hope that he also enjoyed himself and will take good memories of South Africa back to Angers. We are also really looking forward seeing him again during our visit to Lyon next February to attend Natasha’s defense!

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

18th AAWG in George

08 October 2019

18th African Amphibian Working Group (AAWG)

My first AAWG was back in 1996, when I was still finishing my PhD at Bristol University. It was the only conference that I attended during the entirety of my PhD studies, and it happened in Bristol - yes, that exotic far flung location that I had been saving myself up for…

This year, the 18th AAWG was held in the town of George, in the Western Cape, South Africa from 7-8 October 2019. The venue was the Garden Route Botanical Gardens, George. George is close to the Outeniqua Mountains, and is the home to a range of interesting frogs includingBreviceps fuscus,Afrixalus knysnae(pictured above) andHeleophryne regis.

We had a lot of fun listening to lots of different talks about amphibians from all over the continent. The CIB was well represented with talks from Anneke Schoeman, Natasha Kruger, John Measey, Mac Mokhatla and Sarah Davies (see pic!).

There were a bunch of talks from the MeaseyLab. See below for titles:

Talks:

Natasha Kruger, Jean Secondi, Louis du Preez, Anthony Herrel, John Measey 2019. The local adaptation of development and survival of nativeXenopus laevistadpoles in different climatic regions in South Africa.18th African Amphibian Working Group, George, South Africa.

Mohlamatsane Mokhatla, Dennis Rödder, John Measey 2019. Using physiology and performance to predict climate driven distribution range shifts in three temperate African anurans species: a hybrid modelling approach. 18th African Amphibian Working Group, George, South Africa.

Sarah Davies, Dean Impson, Jonathan JA Bell, Clova Jurk-Mabin, Marco Meyer, Chandre Rhoda, Louise Stafford, Kirstin Stephens, Mfundo Tafeni, Andrew A Turner, Nicola J van Wilgen, John RU Wilson, Julia Wood, John Measey 2019. Coordinating invasive alien species management in a biodiversity hotspot: The CAPE Invasive Alien Animals Working Group. 18th African Amphibian Working Group, George, South Africa.

Francois Becker, Jasper Slingsby, John Measey, Krystal Tolley, Res Altwegg 2019. Searching for rare species and determining their absence for conservation applications. 18th African Amphibian Working Group, George, South Africa.

John Measey 2019. Rapid adaptation of an invasive African toad:Sclerophrys gutturalis.  18th African Amphibian Working Group, George, South Africa.


Ever felt like gettnig everyone together to strategize?

25 September 2019

Did making a strategy to work on amphibians have any real effect?

Back in 2009, we had a meeting to strategize about conservation research on amphibians in South Africa. The meeting was well attended, and consisted of a number of workshops where different groups tried to prioritise what should be done, and to which species. Together with other members of the workshop, we turned the results of this meeting into a book, which I edited, and was published by SANBI in early 2011. The book is available as a free pdf to download, and you can get your own copy here.

If you are stuck for names here, try downloading the book and going to the back page where they are all listed. There are many faces that have got older over the last 10 years!

While the book has attracted a steady number of citations over the years, its real value has been in demonstrating the agreed priorities of a community of South African herpetologists as to what needed to be done. In this way, it has leveraged funding for a great many projects and research programmes undertaken by various amphibian researchers in South Africa, both those who attended the 2009 meeting and some who didn’t.

This was the opinion of a similar group who met again in 2015 to decide whether or not the strategy had been worthwhile. For me, this was an uplifting experience as we often get so bogged down in the actual doing of something (in this case it was editing and writing much of the book, as well as conducting the IUCN red listing accounts that it also contained) that we miss or forget all about the big picture. Thus, there really is value in looking back and asking what the value was, and whether it’d be worth doing again.

Although it’s tempting to think that these meetings are all about the amphibians, they are actually all about the people. Building relationships and sharing visions for the future of research. To see who's in this photo and more about the day itself, take a look at the blog post from November 2015.

In the paper published today, together with a number of participants at the 2015 workshop, we tried to make a quantitative and qualitative assessment of research undertaken since the strategy was developed. We compared the 10 years prior to the strategy to the 10 years that followed, and we found:

  • A spike in the number of amphibian records for many species after the plan
  • A marked increase in the number of species descriptions for South African amphibians
  • The number of papers published had risen from 85 to 176,
    • with nearly a quarter of these on targeted taxa
  • An increase in the number of amphibian monitoring programs all over the country
  • The publication of a number of new amphibian books
    • Including books for children
    • And books in local languages
  • A surge in the number of MSc and PhDs awarded with amphibians as their primary subject.

In short, we found that compared to the 10 years before the strategy, the herpetological community in South Africa had resounding evidence of a profitable period, which many of those involved attribute, in part, to the existence of a common strategy document.

So strategizing does work; bringing people together and agreeing on common goals within a research community can aid both those already working in the field, but also give direction to emerging researchers. But this is not a static document, and any strategy needs refreshing with new people from within the community. Sadly, the same period has seen a number of retirements of leading figures in South African herpetology, but hasn’t seen the same number of replacements into permanent research positions. We have to hope that the large number of graduates produced will eventually find jobs where they can continue to come together to strategize for their future.

Read the Open Access paper here:

Measey, J., Tarrant, J., Rebelo, A.D., Turner, A.A., Du Preez, L.H., Mokhatla, M.M., Conradie, W. (2019) Has strategic planning made a difference to amphibianconservation research in South Africa? African Biodiversity & Conservation - Bothalia 49(1), a2428. https://doi.org/ 10.4102/abc.v49i1.2428

  Frogs  Lab  meetings

Natasha's Conversation piece

22 September 2019

Do you know whether it's friend or fo?

When alien species are moved to a new environment, they have a whole new set of predators and prey to become accustomed to. To determine whether the novel sensory inputs are predators or prey is very important, as this can translate to life or death. While adult frogs have sophisticated sensory organs, their tadpoles' senses are less developed but recognising predators is still very important.

In this popular piece for The Conversation, Natasha Kruger explains how African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, tadpoles reacted when they were exposed to smells from different species in France. Natasha explains how familiarity with some of the smells, like predatory diving beetles, might be more famliiar than others, like crayfish which are not-native in sub-Saharan Africa.

What did the tadpoles do? 

You can read Natasha's explaination in this excellent popular write-up.

Natasha's PhD has been investigating the role of tadpoles in the invasion of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. We're looking forward to lots of revelations of how tadpoles differ from their adult forms. 

Kruger, N (2019) Invasive tadpoles can recognise potential predators in new environments. The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/invasive-tadpoles-can-recognise-potential-predators-in-new-environments-119673 

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Predicting what amphibians will be tomorrow's pets

20 September 2019

Predicting the amphibian pet trade

The continued increase in numbers of live amphibians traded as pets has resulted in a number of problems for the individuals traded and the remnants of populations left behind. Not only are numbers of individuals increasing, but the pet trade is constantly looking for new species to trade that will keep shoppers coming back to their outlets: now not only physical shops but also online stores. Predicting what will be traded in the future is difficult, because predicting the future is confounded by ignorance of what will happen. But if we could determine what is likely to be traded, we might be able to set in place measures that stop the most vulnerable or most invasive species from becoming tomorrow’s problems.

This is the premise that Nitya Mohanty and I started with when we set out to determine what the most popular traits in the current pet trade are for amphibians. We searched the literature for lists of traded amphibians around the globe and used the assembled list to test for traits that set these species apart from other non-traded amphibians. To do this, we used a published dataset of amphibian traits called AmphiBIO, although this did limit us to traits that they had used and recorded in adequate numbers.

The result of our endeavours a long list (443) of traded species, which we were able to test for taxonomic biases, finding that there are indeed biases including 6 overtraded families. Next we found that the species traded tend to be larger, with bigger range sizes, and a ‘larval’ breeding type. Lastly, we used these traits to make a list of which species have these traits but are not in our list. This is a list of what might be likely to be traded in future.

Although we just conducted this work on amphibians, a similar approach could be taken for other popular groups that are often traded as pets, such as reptiles or birds. We also acknowledge that there are many more traits that are likely to make popular pets, such as colour and calls. Using this predictive framework would allow policy makers to decide whether or not to control the potential for future species to be traded, getting one step ahead of the unpredictable trade in pets.

Keen readers of the blog will remember that Nitya heard that this paper was accepted only minutes before he was due to present on it at the recent HAA meeting in Cape St Francis (see blog post here). And those of you with longer memories will realise that this is not the first time we have published on amphibians in the pet trade as there was a MeaseyLab publication on amphibians in YouTube videos (see here for the blog post & here to read that paper).

Mohanty, N.P. & Measey, J. (in press) The global pet trade in amphibians: species traits, taxonomic bias, and future directions. Biodiversity & Conservation. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-019-01857-x

  Frogs  Lab
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