Our research focuses on the following broad topics: predators, spiders and ecology. Most of the projects have a community aspect or application. Community engagement, training, disseminating and sharing information, forms part of most projects. Here are a few projects that was done by AICE

Monitoring of carnivore and small mammal diversity at industrial sites

The mining and petrochemical industries plays an important role in the South African economy and employment. While these industries can have a negative impact on the environment and biodiversity, there is emerging evidence that natural and unused areas at these industrial sites can be important refuges for biodiversity. For the Sasol State of Biodiversity project, for example, we use the serval as a model taxon to investigate the persistence of a specialist carnivore (and their prey) in varying levels of land transformation and reclamation. To achieve this, we do annual camera trap surveys to estimate serval densities and carnivore diversity, which we contrast to other industrial sites, the agricultural matrix and natural areas. We utilize fine scale GPS tracking data to quantify the landscape permeability for serval. Finally, we collect data on serval diet on various landscapes to quantify the prey base, and ultimately the drivers of serval populations in these landscapes. We believe this study will greatly improve our knowledge on the conservation value of industrial sites for various species and that these sites should be considered in conservation planning.


Livestock guard dog project

Large carnivore-livestock conflict is amongst the most important drivers in the global decline in large carnivore populations. While there has been tremendous headway made in mitigation strategies, the carnivore declines still persist. In South Africa the African leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the last remaining free roaming large carnivores that is hard hit by livestock conflict. Especially among rural small holder and communal farming communities the conflict (and impact) can be devastating, since these communities lack the financial resources to protect livestock. In this project we aim to address the conflict using a different mitigation angle. First, we use livestock guard dogs as a mitigation action. Secondly, we use the deployment of the livestock guard dogs as an education opportunity among the smallholder and communal farmers, as well as the local schools. Our education and outreach activities does not only focus on conflict and mitigation strategies, but also the importance of other small carnivores in the ecosystem. Our results so far has showed that the study area have over 14-17 species of small carnivores, which is quite an achievement. Finally, our outreach and education program also include the cultural importance of small/large carnivores in the communities, ranging from traditional medicine to cultural regalia. We believe that conservation programs that span the cultural and ecological space will be more successful than programs only focused on financial and ecological aspects.

Snapshot Safari project

Biodiversity data is critical in monitoring the effect of change on species and populations. In response to the urgent need for more accurate assessment of mammal occupancy and populations, the Snapshot Safari project, that is sponsored by the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) will collect camera trapping data from various camera trap grids across South Africa. AICE assisted with camera trap surveys in parts of Limpopo Province.

Ecological Rodent Management

Rodent pests are amongst the most under-estimated pests in African (and globally). Resource poor smallholder farmers are often most impacted due to a lack of resources and limited pest control and management options. A recent review indicated that crop losses due to rodents in African-Malagasy small holder farmers, averaged around 15%, but can range up to 100% during outbreak years. As such, finding ecological and sustainable solutions to rodent pests for smallholder farmers is important for food as well as financial security. It is important to remember that smallholder farmers are still the backbone of food production in many parts of Africa.

In this project we work alongside University of Venda and serval other African Universities to promote ecologically based rodent management. Our approach is multi-facetted, ranging from local control methods to biological control. Predation is a key component in our repertoire of control methods. While previous research has shown that rural agricultural matrix has a rich diversity of small mammalian and avian rodent predators, most of these species are culturally loathed and face heavy persecution. One key component of this project is an education program aimed at schools and smallholder farmers. We specifically focus on the ecological role of predators, as well as the traditional-cultural uses and importance of these species. The program is demonstration based, and we assist several key small holder farmers (farming champions) to implement control methods that will act as demonstration for other smallholder farmers.


Mopane Worm Project

Some animals perform crucial roles in the ecosystem, acting as keystone species or ecosystem engineers, and these species are not only part of the food chain, but changing and shaping the environment. Insects, such as mopane worms are seldom studied in this context. In southern Africa, mopane worms are an important food source for communities and wildlife. They are also a source of income to those involved in their harvesting and trade. They are of considerable social, economic and cultural significance.

However, like all other species, mopane caterpillars face challenges due to climate change, habitat destruction, and overuse, consequently influencing mopane worm population. Our studies focusses on mopane worms’ contribution to nutrient cycling on landscape level. By using field and laboratory experiments, we assessed the extent to which mopane worms are facilitating the conversion of nutrients from leaves to plant available components. Our results show that mopane worms are vital to nutrient cycling and as such, the loss of mopane worms could negatively affect the ecosystem.


Why Spiders

With more than 2300 known species, South Africa could be considered a hotspot of this spider diversity. Truly remarkable though, is the fact that more than 60% of the species are endemic to the country and occur nowhere else in the world. This a consequence of the region’s unique biogeographic context and geological history. Therefore, southern Africa in general, and South Africa in particular, are key to our understanding of spider evolution and diversity. Although still fragmented, an integrated understanding of South African spider diversity has emerged over the last 20 years, pointing to a unique heritage, large gaps in our understanding and much more future discoveries. We hope that the resources in this webpage will provide a platform for continued discovery, understanding, and the ultimate wisdom to conserve this heritage.

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