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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. 


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:


And another write up in the Saturday Star here:

...and the Witness 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.

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