Friday, June 12, 2015

Lasting Impressions from my Visit to Cape Town, South Africa

So, this is my last 2015 report from Cape Town and its been a GREAT three weeks. I've been working on the collections at the Iziko Museum courtesy of my colleagues at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).

 Lots of great specimens to study and good interaction with the marine scientific community in the South African region! An extremely productive trip.

Plus, of course, first hand exposure to ecosystems and their faunas! I still marvel at the resemblance between the kelp forests & fauna here and in California!
But here are some lasting impressions that I take away from South Africa that encapsulate the lessons learned over the last few weeks...

1. One of the BEST collections of echinoderms in Africa is at the Iziko Museum! 
This is always kind of a cheat of course. I just spent 3 weeks identifying a massive collection of sea stars, so OF COURSE, I'm a little biased!

But seriously, the collections here contain historical materials from famous echinoderm workers like Hubert Lyman Clark and Ailsa Clark (unrelated). They've maintained a good record of marine biodiversity throughout the region for decades from intertidal to relatively deep-depths.

The Iziko is undergoing many efforts to share its materials with the scientific community including digitzation initiatives and of course a collections database is ongoing!

This is a great place to start your studies on the Indian Ocean or to survey the unusual temperate water habitats of South Africa!

2. Citizen Science is thriving in South Africa!
Perhaps one of the best things I've discovered about the scientific community in the Cape Town and South African is the presence of a very active diving community which LOVES to share and study the marine habitats they observe!

Groups such as, SURG (the Southern Underwater Research Group), and even websites such as Eastern Cape SCUBA diving  show a multitude of pictures. This also includes the many pictures off Flickr and other photobanks.. I'm sure there are probably more...

3. There are MANY wonderful ecological and natural history stories in South Africa but they are poorly studied.
Probably one of the great things I learned about studying the fauna is how many cool things are out there and widely known to the local community but were not actually published! 

For example, this amazing sea star, Pteraster capensis has been reported from throughout the area to brood and generate mucus! But was this an actual observation/report? Or simply an extrapolation from the scientific literature on the North Atlantic/North Pacific species?  No scientific reports on this species are available (other than those that report taxonomy).

But I finally spoke to George Branch and Charlie Griffiths at the University of Cape Town who verified that YES indeed. This has been seen!!  So, it will probably make someone a great paper some day!

4. A HUGE diversity of sea stars exists in the region! (and now there is a reference collection!)
As a follow up to the point #3 above, is the simple fact that there is a HUGE diversity of sea stars and other invertebrates on the shores of South Africa. You not only have those animals in the temperate water zones on the west and south coats BUT also the amazing Indian Ocean tropical species on the EAST coast!! Plus the deep-sea!!

I've seen this species for example, identified as "Halityle regularis" in some field guides, but its a different color and is much flatter. Possibly a new record? Or merely a color morph of Halityle? We need to see more than a picture to be sure. I've alluded to possible undiscovered species in past posts...  UPDATE: It IS Halityle regularis-but a different color morph!

BUT thanks to my work at Iziko identifying about 600-700 specimens we know have a bunch of baseline referneces for the fauna of South Africa!  But we will almost always have more pictures than specimens..
5. The staff at the Iziko is AWESOME.
I wanted to thank my hosts at the Museum who helped me with sorting specimens and managing data and other logistics. This includes Candice, Liz, Kanye and of course the curator, Wayne Florence

P.S. The FOOD in Cape Town is AMAZING!

I could NOT have predicted that OSTRICH tastes like very tender beef! Wonderful Grilled or "spicy Mongolian style"!!
Also.. South Africans love cider and meat pies. EVERYWHERE!

THANK YOU CAPE TOWN! I hope to be back!! 

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