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Natasha defends her PhD thesis (unofficially in Stellenbosch)

14 February 2020

Natasha defends her thesis

Doing a thesis defense is always a bit nerve wracking, but imagine if you had to do it twice? Luckly, for Natasha, it turned out that she did only have to defend her thesis once, but after we'd organised a defense in Stellenbosch, we decided to go ahead with the defense as a good practice for the real defense in Lyon. Whether or not it was actually going to be a defense seemed to be beyond our control. The faculty flip-flopped several times on the issue. 

Then, at the last minute it looked like even the dry run wouldn't happen as we were forced out of our building for a small fire on the first floor.

We got back into the department shortly after 13h00, when the defense was due to start. We had a diminished audience as many people had disappeared during the evacuation, but all of the important people were there to listen.

In time honoured fashion, after the defense, the lab all went down to the pub to celebrate.

  Lab  Xenopus

When is a wild animal actually a farm animal?

29 January 2020

Can Wild Animals Actually be Farm Animals?


In a recent opinion piece led by Mike Somers, we criticised the SA government's Department of Agriculture for passing a bill that classified 24 indigenous wildlife species and 3 invasive alien species as 'farm animals'. This allows farmers to breed these same species into genetically pure lines that could be advantageous for their sale. However, this law contravenes several existing laws that conserve these same species, or list them as invasive in South Africa. Our article questioned whether such a law should ever have been promulgated, given that there was never any consultation.

Read the article in the South African Journal of Science here:



We got a nice write-up in the Guardian here:



  Lab

Max and James get set up in Durban

08 December 2019

Max and James get set-up in Durban

A couple of weeks back, Max and James set off from Stellenbosch in James' Landy with 20 tubs to go to Durban. They almost made it, but the Landy gave out just before Durban and they had to get recovered Landy on one truck and tubs on another. And so all good adventures start! 

The reason for the trip was to set up a common garden experiment in Durban with Guttural Toads (Sclerophrys gutturalis) from their native and invasive ranges. The idea is to breed all toads to produce tadpoles, and then rear up the tadpoles in our mesocosms (regular readers will be familiar with these from past blogs: see here). Max will monitor their growth rate, morphology and behaviour of the different groups. 

The set up in a green house in Durban includes cameras for watching tadpole behaviour, blue bins for rearing tadpoles (under benches) and a 'pint of science' growing algae to kick start the mesocosms.

Once everything is set up, all you need is toads. Here you see Max and James scoping out urban and rural areas of Durban to see whether there are appropriate numbers of toads. 

Obviously, you've got to be quite whacky to hunt toads in Durban, and James and Max certainly fit the bill...

So near, and yet so far. The Landy almost made it to Durban with all the tubs, but not quite.


Welcome Max Mühlenhaupt

18 November 2019

The MeaseyLab welcomes Max Mühlenhaupt

Max Mühlenhaupt (think windmill) comes from the Free University in Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin) where he is studying for a MSc in Biology (Masterstudiengang Biologie). Max previously spent time with Dr James Baxter-Gilbert, when James was conducting his PhD in Australia. Max was responsible for chasing dragons in circles. I know it sounds like a fantasy, but I'm assured that this is what he did.


Max Mühlenhaupt with Dr James Baxter-Gilbert outside the Department for Botany & Zoology, Stellenbosch University

Max is in Stellenbosch to conduct his project: Examining the potential for evolutionary drivers behind biological invasions of Guttural Toads. He will focus on the early life-history stages of these toads: tadpoles and metamorphs. This will take place in a mesocosm experiment in Durban. Watch this space to learn more of Max and his adventures in South Africa.

Max reminds us that he is not an intern, but a co-investigator, and of course we are very happy to have him on board in this capacity.


The CIB Annual Research Meeting 2019

15 November 2019

CIB ARM 2019

Another year has gone by, and it is time for another Annual Research Meeting (see some previous years here: 2018, 2017. Following directly on from the frameworks workshop, the ARM featured all the usual Core Team Members, and all of the wonderful CIB post-docs and students. 

This year, the post-docs decided on a theme of pictures in pods for the students to present on. Each student talk was 5 minutes, and was composed of pictures (photos, graphs, conceptual frameworks, etc.) with a legend. The talks were arranged into themed pods, and each pod was led by a post-doc.

As usual, the students raised to the challenge with excellence. The MeaseyLab had excellent talks from Natasha Kruger and Carla Wagener, as well as excellent pods led by James Baxter-Gilbert and Nitya #MohantyMagic. 

It was a special day for Nitya, as not only was he staring in the proceedings of the ARM, but it was his last day in South Africa. He has now flown to Bangalore to start his new post-doc position on December 2nd. We are hoping that it won’t be the last we see of Nitya, and hopefully soon we’ll be seeing some more publications from his productive post-doc in the MeaseyLab.

Once again, the entire ARM was an uplifting experience. The CIB students do such a great job. I was especially pleased to see Nathi Ntuli receiving a commendation from the judges for his MSc presentation on feral pigs in South Africa. Go Nathi go!

  Lab  meetings
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