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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.

Goodbye Nitya!

15 November 2019

Goodbye Nitya

Last Friday, we had a lab braai to say goodbye to Nitya Mohanty, who leaves us today for his new post-doc in the lab orMaria Thaker in Bangalore

Nitya first appeared in an email in late 2015. If you’ve ever wanted to know what to say in an email to get someone to take you on as a PhD student, sight unseen, then you’d have to ask him. Because that’s what happened, eventually.

In early 2016, Nitya began to develop his PhD proposal and eventually arrived and registered at SU in July 2016 to present his proposal to the department. Nitya had won a partial bursary from the department that would cover the cost of a flight to and from South Africa each year, and some extra monies for registering for a PhD at SU. 

We’ve seen many blog posts over the years since then about Nitya, as he’s been a busy student. Here’s a small selection of highlights: 

First trip into the field

A conference in Scotland

Advisor visits the Andamans field sites

Producing papers&Popular articles

More papers

Nitya graduated inMarch 2019, and by then had already started his first post-doc in the MeaseyLab. He developed the theme of pet invasions, as well as finishing some of his PhD chapters, turning them into manuscripts for submission. 

We’ve had a lot of fun having Nitya in the MeaseyLab. We wish him all the best in his new endeavours, wherever they take him.  We are really happy that Nitya will be studying sleep ecology in a more formal framework. Sleep is something that is very close to Nitya’s heart. He’s the one person who has shown time and again that he can perform sleep wherever he goes. It’s great to see that all that practice has finally paid off!

  Frogs  Lab

Publicity for Nitya's pet-trade paper

27 October 2019

Publicity for Nitya’s pet-trade paper

Not content with having produced a very popular paper on the pet-trade in amphibians (see blog post here or read the article here), Nitya went on to write a popular article for The Conversation Africa, which has garnered even more attention.

In his Conversation piece, Nitya explains more about the very real dangers that are associated with the pet-trade. Firstly, for animals that are collected from the wild, and for those that are mass bred in captivity. One of the problems that we face is that traders are looking for new species all the time, and this constant search for new ‘products’ is likely to lead to exploitation, and the danger of releasing lots of propagules of a new invasion. He underlines that there is responsibility across the board, from traders to owners.

This story was picked up by eNCA, a TV broadcasting company that covers the African continent. Nitya was interviewed live by Jeremy Maggs, and shared his thoughts on why more attention needs to be paid to the growing trade in exotic pets. You can watch the interview in full on YouTube

Always looking for a story with #MohantyMagic, The Hindu picked up the story and wrote their own piece on the article. They even used a sound bite from Nitya’s co-author!

Interestingly, the Conversation article has been picked up by other news outlets including Infurmation, a site promoting responsibility for pet lovers! Let’s hope that Nitya’s message strikes a chord.

  Frogs  Lab

Mac's PeerJ paper is published

22 October 2019

Effects of temperature on the physiology of three African frogs

Some of you will remember Mohlamatsane ‘Mac’ Mokhatla and his work on three species of widespread African frogs: the principally aquatic African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), stream-breeding common river frog (Amietia delalandii), and the largely terrestrial raucous toad (Sclerophrys capensis). Keen readers will remember that one of Mac’s species changed its name three times during the course of his PhD (see here)! Well, some of that work was immortalised today in a paper summarising the physiology work that Mac did on these three frogs. 

While there’s been quite a lot of work done on the physiology of frogs, most of these studies are done in the northern hemisphere on temperate frogs with similar biologies. Mac chose three very different species: platannas that spend most of their time in water, toads that are mostly terrestrial, and river frogs that spend much of their time jumping from land to water and back. 

The results suggest that vapour pressure deficit (an important trait for frogs that need to remain hydrated) better predicted rates of evaporative water loss than ambient temperature in toads and river frogs. 

Read more about Mac's thesis here or read more the paper here:

Mokhatla M, Measey J, Smit B.2019.The role of ambient temperature and body mass on body temperature, standard metabolic rate and evaporative water loss in southern African anurans of different habitat specialisation.PeerJ7:e7885

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus
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