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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.

Meanwhile...

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_25

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_22

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_5

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_27

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_11

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 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_30

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_1

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. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_13

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 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_31


Meanwhile, in Durban...

18 February 2020

The Guttural Toad Team are working hard

There are now three projects ongoing in Durban, and the MeaseyLab are going hard at it.

1. Max's experiment has lots of tadpoles to test.

You may remember that Max headed up to Durban at the end of 2019 in order to conduct an experiment on the tadpoles of Guttural toads (if not - see here). Since then, Max has caught a bunch of toads, persuaded them to breed and is now working with the tadpoles.

When he's not working with the tadpoles, you might find him taking a quick bath.

2. Stomach contents of Guttural toads

Sam has also got off to a great start finding lots of urban and rural toads for his project on their stomach contents. Getting to grip with flushing stomachs has not been a problem for Sam who has quickly become an expert.

3. James gets serious about hopping to it

James has also been collecting toads to add to his performance and behavioural trait datasets. 

Luckily, there's still lots of toads around in Durban, as long as it rains, so James has his hands full.

We're really proud of our #ToadTeam - so pleased that you are all getting great data. 


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.

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