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
Snapshot Safari project
Ecological Rodent Management
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
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.
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.