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Graduation time

11 December 2018

Graduation night: December 2018

A great night of 5 MeaseyLab members graduating. To be fair, there were lots and lots of graduands:

The BSc's are at the back, Honours in the middle, MSc's toward the front, and the front row (in scarlet gowns) are the doctoral graduands. See if you can spot anyone you know (hint - check out the bottom left)...

Among them, special mention goes to Doc Mac:

It was a great pleasure to announce the graduation of Dr. Mohlamatsane Mokhatla. Read more about Mac in a blog post I wrote about his defense here.

Although she wasn't present, Marike Louw also graduated tonight with her MSc

Seen here (holding a rake in KZN) Marike defending her MSc in March before getting on a boat to spend time on Marion Island. Read more about Marike in a blog post I wrote about her defense here.

Also graduating were Reesher, Damian and Carla, all of whom completed their honours degrees by doing projects in the MeaseyLab. I only managed to catch up with Reesher after the ceremony, but here's a pic of all three of them giving their presentations at the MeaseyLab retreat  earlier on this year. 

...and here's Reesher in her gown


African Acoustics is as easy as ABC

06 December 2018

The African Bioacoustics Community's first ever meeting: ABC

It was a fatastic full week of revealing and fascinating talks on ecological acoustics. The event had lots of representation of aSCR.

I got to show my animation video of how aSCR locates frog calls. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth a look:


Kearns, R., Louw, M., Turner, A., Slingsby, J., Altwegg, R. Borches, D., Stevenson, B.C. & Measey, J. No more singin’ in the rain? As acoustic assessment of changing calling densities of the Cape peninsula moss frog (Athroleptella lightfooti). African Bioacoustics Community Conference, UCT December 2018.

Poongavanan, J., Altwegg, R., Durbach, I. & Measey, J. Modelling range-wide density patters of Lightfoot’s Moss Frog (Athroleptella lightfooti) using acoustic monitoring data: Do the same factors affect occurrence and density? African Bioacoustics Community Conference, UCT December 2018.


Poongavanan, J., Altwegg, R., Durbach, I. & Measey, J. Modelling range-wide density patters of Lightfoot’s Moss Frog (Athroleptella lightfooti) using acoustic monitoring data: Do the same factors affect occurrence and density? African Bioacoustics Community Conference, UCT December 2018

Altwegg, R., Measey, J., Borches, D. & Stevenson, B. Estimating density, occupancy and species richness from acoustic data. African Bioacoustics Community Conference, UCT December 2018

Measey, J., Stevenson, B., Scott, T., Altwegg, R. & Borches, D. Counting chirps: acoustic monitoring of cryptic frogs. African Bioacoustics Community Conference, UCT December 2018.


  aSCR  Lab  meetings

Dr. James talks to the Cape Herp Club

28 November 2018

Mother of Dragons gives us a talk

It was great to hear Dr. Mother give a talk about his urban dragons. Happily, James has found a country where he can give a great talk to a fabulous audience while drinking a beer.

Next stop, James will be supplying his now infamous home brew to all Cape Herpers who come on the Cape Herp retreat in early 2019... watch this space.

Speaker: Dr. James Baxter-Gilbert

Title of talk: Australian Water Dragons: Urban Evolution and Ecology

Time: 16h00 (4pm)

Venue:  Natural Sciences building, Stellenbosch University, Room 2025 (lab at far end on first floor)

James is well known in Sydney as the crazy Canadian who chases dragons everywhere. He raised hundreds of individuals from eggs and raised them in urban vs rural settings, finding that the juveniles were really distinct. You can read more about James' PhD work here.

James was part of Martin Whiting's Lizard Lab at Macquarie University, Sydney (but he's alright now). 

In 2019, we're really privaledged to have James join the MeaseyLab at the CIB, continuing his globetrotting academic herping career in South Africa. 

  Lab  meetings

Getting started with the introduction

22 November 2018

Why do we need an introduction?

The introduction and discussion appear to be two common stumbling points for students writing chapters or manuscripts. First, what to put in and what to leave out. And second how to construct it. Right now, I’m going to tackle the introduction, and leave the discussion for another time.

The introduction is going to be the first part of your manuscript that anyone reads. Yes, they’ve already taken in the title and the abstract. These are almost like fishing bait to draw the readers in. The meat starts with the introduction. And it’s not only important to get all the correct content in there, it’s also important not to give misleading information that might distract the reader.

Earlier this month, we had the editor of The Conversation Africa, Caroline Southey, who told the CIB ARM that one of the most important things for a Conversation article was for the narrative to avoid getting side-tracked. She cunningly used the example of driving down a highway to your destination to explain how we are rarely tempted to turn off and explore side roads. Instead, we concentrate on driving straight to the place we set out for.

I’m not even going to apologise to those who love to explore the highways and byways of life, because Caroline was right. When we write the introduction to a paper we must not be tempted to stray away from what we are aiming to introduce. The aim of our introduction is to explain to the reader the hypothesis we are testing, and the approach we have taken to test it.

So what do we put into the introduction?

As I’ve said elsewhere (see blog entry), the hypothesis itself is made up of different parts, and each of these must be explained in the introduction. We also need to understand the approach that you’ve decided to take in your study (e.g. experimental, lab or field approach, observations or natural history). All of these decisions that you made were informed by the literature, as is your general understanding of the subject that you are studying. So making sure that you cite (read about citing here) the relevant literature is a key ingredient of the introduction.

However, this is where I think many people get side tracked. Researchers love reading, and it’s super easy to get sucked into all the amazing things that people have done in an ever expanding and increasingly interesting literature. We are often tempted to show exactly how well read we are. Or put in that fascinating tit-bit that we stumbled on by accident. However, Caroline had it right. You must keep focussed on the goal, to introduce the hypothesis to the reader, and try not to allow yourself (and consequently your reader) to get distracted.

And the construction…?

Previously, I’ve described the introduction like a funnel, where we channel the reader into our hypothesis by starting broad and ending up narrow (see that formula here). This drew some criticism on Twitter from @109Deb that we journal articles are expected to fit a certain style. My objective there, as here, is to try to demystify writing and enable my students (and any other readers of this blog) to get started. The easiest way to get started is, I believe, through a formula. But it is important to say that the funnel isn’t the only way, and I’ve read some great papers where the first sentence of the introduction is the hypothesis. However you do it, the hypothesis is at the heart of your introduction because it is the reason for your work.

My suggestion is to keep to the funnel if you want to make life easier for yourself. Start by writing an outline of where you want your text to go. Then add in the references that are pertinent to each paragraph of the outline. Make sure that there aren’t any paragraphs with a single citation repeated over and again; it’s more likely that there is a lot more relevant information out there (see blog article here on citations).

Paragraph 1: Overview of the major theme.

Paragraph 2: Introduce the important variables that your hypothesis includes. It’s not impossible to mention others, just don’t get distracted.

Paragraph 3. Identify the problem.

Paragraph 4. Introduce the approach that you are using, and the organism of choice.

Paragraph 5. Clearly state the hypotheses that are to be tested.

Note that you can shuffle the above to the point where it still makes sense to the reader. Don’t be overly strict or dogmatic with this (or any) advice. For example, there may be more than 5 paragraphs, but use the framework to get started. Do what works for you in your situation.

Now that you’ve fleshed out your outline with relevant citations, it’ll be time to pass it by your advisor to check that you are moving in the right direction before you start writing. My suggestion is always to use your advisor to get the advice that you need – that’s what they’re there for!

  Lab  Writing

Frogs eating tadpoles

18 November 2018

Corey's second MSc chapter is published

African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) appear to select against their own tadpoles and for those of a threatened congener, Xenopus gilli. That's the punchline for Corey's second MSc chapter, recently published in African Journal of Ecology. He also found that the behaviour and developmental rate of the two species was different, with X. gilli developing much faster than X. laevis

Corey conducted several experiments that are written up in this paper. The results are very interesting in the light of the threat of high numbers of X. laevis throughout the distribution of X. gilli

Read more about Corey's other published thesis chapter on functional response here.

Read this article here:

Thorp, C.J., Vonesh, J.R. & Measey, J. (in press) Cannibalism or congeneric predation? The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis Daudin) preferentially predate on larvae of Cape platannas (X. gilli Rose & Hewitt). African Journal of Ecology DOI:10.1111/aje.12577 pdf

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus
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