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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.


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.

The book is published!

11 March 2020

Published: Biological Invasions in South Africa

In what is actually a big event for the Centre for Invasion Biology, and invasion biologists all over South Africa, our book "Biological Invasions in South Africa" is published today! Moreover, it is Open Access and therefore free for anyone to download.

With 104 authors contributing to 31 chapters, there are nearly 1000 pages of text in this volume. The idea is that this book represents an encyclopaedic approach to covering all aspects of invasions in South Africa.

I wrote 2 chapters in the book that cover the invasive vertebrates in South Africa, as well as the invasive animals that have been donated from South Africa to the rest of the world. I also contributed to seven more chapters that cover many different aspects of invasions. Below you'll find the citations to my chapters, but I recommend downloading the entire book and looking through it all.

Byrne MJ et al. (2020) Education, training and capacity building in the field of biological invasions in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin, pp 731-755.

Davies SJ et al. (2020) Experience and lessons from invasive and alien animal control projects carried out in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin, pp 629-663.

Measey J, Hui C, Somers M (2020) Terrestrial vertebrate invasions in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin, pp 115-151.

Measey J, Robinson TB, Kruger N, Zengeya TA, Hurley BP (2020) South Africa as a donor of alien animals to other parts of the world. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin, pp 787-830.

Potgieter LJ et al. (2020) Biological invasions in South Africa’s urban ecosystems: Patterns, processes, impacts and management. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin, pp 275-309.

Richardson DM, Abrahams B, Boshoff N, Davies SJ, Measey J, van Wilgen B (2020) South Africa’s Centre for Invasion Biology: An Experiment in Invasion Science for Society. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological Invasions in South Africa pp 879-914

van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, Zengeya T (2020) Overview of biological invasions in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin pp 3-31.

Wilson JR et al. (2020) The role of environmental factors in promoting and limiting biological invasions in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer, Berlin pp 355-385.

Wilson JR, Measey J, Richardson DM, van Wilgen BW, Zengeya TA (2020) Potential futures of biological invasions in South Africa. In: van Wilgen BW, Measey J, Richardson DM, Wilson JR, van Wilgen BW (eds) Biological invasions in South Africa. Springer,  Berlin pp 917-946

Agama data published

10 March 2020

Agamas Run Again

Keen readers of this blog will remember that in January 2017, the MeaseyLab retreat in KZN included doing lots of fieldwork with Nick Tan (see here if your memory needs a jog). Nick finished his MSc in July 2017 (see blog post here). But happily, the story didn't end there, and Nick has continued to write up his project so that two publications were accepted in January 2020. Well done Nick!

Here's a video showing how Nick did the performance work. To see more videos, subscribe to our channel.

But actually, the Agama work didn't start there. It started long before when Anthony Herrel and Bieke Vanhooydonck first visited South Africa in 2008 (long before the blog started). 

Here's a blast from that 2008 past and a look at one of the Agama atra heads that we measured. Although we measured a bunch of species back then, we missed some really important ones that Nick was able to include and write up for us.

It's great to see this 'old' data getting written up and published. 

You can read the papers here:

Tan, W.C., Vanhooydonck, B., Measey, J. & Herrel, A. (in press) Morphology, locomotor performance, and habitat use in southern African agamids Biological Journal of the Linnnean Society PDF

Tan, W.C., Herrel, A. & Measey, J. (in press) Dietary observations of four southern African lizards (Agamidae). Herpetological Conservation and Biology


Natasha becomes Dr Kruger

09 March 2020

Natasha's PhD defense in Lyon

The defense of a PhD has different sets of rules in different countries. Usually, you become familiar with the rules in your own country because you've seen plenty of people conduct defenses before in your own department. However, Natasha had a co-tutelle agreement with Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and the co-tutelle agreement specified that she had to conduct her defense in Lyon, France (even though she'd never been there!).

This led to a a whole chain of events with a lot of travel for her defense jury (although Rui Rebelo was stopped from coming from Portugal by his university in case he caught a virus).

Natasha might have hoped that the most difficult part of her defense was going to be pronouncing the title in French...

The jury convened at 14h30 to listen to Natasha give her talk. She was then grilled with questions for around 1.5 hours by members of the jury who wanted to know more details of her study. It's not easy to become a dr. 

Finally, Natasha heard the words: "Congratulations - you're a doctor!"

Natasha will also graduate from Stellenbosch University in December, so watch this space to see pictures from that event.

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