Durban, South Africa
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Monadjem A.,University of Swaziland | Richards L.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Taylor P.J.,University of Venda | Stoffberg S.,Stellenbosch University
Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society | Year: 2013

The pipistrelloid bats (genera Hypsugo, Neoromicia, and Pipistrellus) of Africa have been poorly studied, partly as a result of problems associated with species identification. This paper examines the diversity of pipistrelloid bats from Mount Nimba, a biodiversity hotspot in the Upper Guinean rainforest zone. Traditional morphometrics, the structure of the baculum, and sequences of the cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene were used to identify taxa. Species richness was exceptionally high and included at least ten taxa identifiable on molecular grounds. Of these, existing names could be assigned to six taxa. A seventh taxon was described as a species new to science, Neoromicia roseveari sp. nov., and was distinguished on molecular grounds, craniodental morphology, and baculum structure. The remaining taxa may refer to as-yet undescribed species but we lacked sufficient material to formally describe them here. The high species richness of pipistrelloid bats on Mount Nimba may be associated with the transition zone from lowland rainforest to moist savannah. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London.


Kruger S.C.,University of Cape Town | Allan D.G.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Jenkins A.R.,University of Cape Town | Amar A.,University of Cape Town
Bird Conservation International | Year: 2014

Summary Territory occupancy, distribution and density of the isolated Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis population in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains of southern Africa were assessed between two time periods - former (1960-1999) and current (2000-2012) - to identify population trends. Overall, 190 territories were recorded of which 109 are currently occupied. The number of occupied breeding territories decreased by a minimum of 32% and a maximum of 51% over the past five decades. Territories located on the periphery of the breeding range were more likely to be abandoned than those in the core. The current population is estimated at a minimum of 352 and a maximum of 390 individuals. The breeding range decreased by 27%, restricting the birds to an estimated area of occupancy of 28,125 km2. Breeding densities also decreased by 20%, declining from 4.9 to 3.9 pairs/1,000 km2. In both periods, higher densities were recorded in the core of the range. Nests were located about 9.0 km apart, a slight increase from the 7.7 km recorded formerly. Inter-nest distances increased with distance from the core range. Further studies are required to ascertain whether productivity or survival is limiting population growth, and whether anthropogenic influences are resulting in the abandonment of territories in the periphery of the range and the subsequent decline in numbers. © BirdLife International 2013.


Shaw J.M.,University of Cape Town | Jenkins A.R.,University of Cape Town | Allan D.G.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Ryan P.G.,University of Cape Town
Bird Conservation International | Year: 2016

Ludwig's Bustard Neotis ludwigii is globally 'Endangered' because of a projected population decline resulting from high collision mortality on power lines throughout its southern African range. Population monitoring is key to the effective conservation of threatened species, but there are no population trend data to confirm the impact of this mortality. We repeated extensive road and aerial census counts of Ludwig's Bustards and other large terrestrial birds, previously conducted in the late 1980s, across the Karoo, South Africa. An aerial survey gave similar density patterns to a concurrent road count, suggesting that road counts are an adequate method for censusing Ludwig's Bustards. In common with the 1980s surveys, there was a strong seasonal effect in the Succulent Karoo, with Ludwig's Bustards abundant in winter and rare in summer. There was no evidence of a corresponding decline in the Nama Karoo in winter, but this probably relates to reduced detectability in the Nama Karoo in summer as there is evidence for large proportions of the population migrating between biomes. No relationship was found between the numbers of Ludwig's Bustards and rainfall, perhaps because of larger scale rainfall patterns in the Karoo and/or because the species is not strictly nomadic. Compared with the 1980s, Ludwig's Bustards were more strongly associated with transformed lands, which have increased marginally on road count transects. Using Distance, the current South African population is estimated at 114,000 (95% CI 87,000-148,000) birds, with no evidence for a population decline over the past two decades. Numbers of Blue Cranes Anthropoides paradiseus increased since the 1980s, corresponding with other data supporting this trend, but numbers of Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii, Southern Black Korhaan Afrotis afra and Blue Korhaan E. caerulescens all decreased, raising concerns about the conservation status of these resident bustard species. © 2015 BirdLife International.


PubMed | University of KwaZulu - Natal and Durban Natural Science Museum
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Zootaxa | Year: 2015

The paucity of data for the molossid bat Otomops throughout its range has hindered our ability to resolve the number of Otomops species present within the Afro-Malagasy region (including the Arabian Peninsula). This paper employed an integrative approach by combining morphometric (cranial morphology) and molecular (mitochondrial cytochrome b and D-loop sequences, nuclear intron sequences and microsatellites) data to identify the number of Otomops taxa occurring in the Afro-Malagasy region. Three taxa were identified, two of which could be assigned to existing species, i.e. O. martiensseni and O. madagascariensis. The third taxon, previously recognised as O. martiensseni (Matschie 1897), is described herein as a new species, Otomops harrisoni sp. nov., and can be differentiated from O. martiensseni s.s. based on both molecular and morphometric data. Locality data of specimens belonging to O. harrisoni suggest that its distribution range extends from the Arabian Peninsula through to Eritrea and south to Ethiopia and Kenya.


Williams K.A.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Villet M.H.,Rhodes University
ZooKeys | Year: 2014

Hybrids of Lucilia sericata and Lucilia cuprina have been shown to exist in previous studies using molecular methods, but no study has shown explicitly that these hybrids can be identified morphologically. Published morphological characters used to identify L. sericata and L. cuprina were reviewed, and then scored and tested using specimens of both species and known hybrids. Ordination by multi-dimensional scaling indicated that the species were separable, and that hybrids resembled L. cuprina, whatever their origin. Discriminant function analysis of the characters successfully separated the specimens into three unambiguous groups - L. sericata, L. cuprina and hybrids. The hybrids were morphologically similar irrespective of whether they were from an ancient introgressed lineage or more modern. This is the first evidence that hybrids of these two species can be identified from their morphology. The usefulness of the morphological characters is also discussed and photographs of several characters are included to facilitate their assessment. © K.A. Williams, M.H. Villet.


Tantawi T.I.,Alexandria University | Williams K.A.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Villet M.H.,Rhodes University
Journal of Medical Entomology | Year: 2010

The calliphorid fly, Lucilia cuprina (Wiedemann), is known to cause serious malign myiasis in animals, whereas its sibling species Lucilia sericata (Meigen) is commonly a carrion breeder and is used in maggot debridement therapy (MDT). The current study reports an accidental involvement of L. cuprina in MDT in Alexandria, Egypt, that has proved to be safe and effective. In November 2008, the laboratory colonies of L. sericata (the species regularly used in MDT) at the Faculty of Science, Alexandria University were renewed by Lucilia flies collected as third instar larvae on exposed rabbit carcasses. Flies from the new colonies were successfully used to heal the diabetic foot wounds of two patients at Alexandria Main University Hospital. Analysis of DNA sequences and adult and larval morphology then revealed that these flies were and still are L. cuprina. Breeding of this species in carrion in Alexandria is a new record. Despite the safety of this strain of L. cuprina in MDT, entomologists rearing blow flies for the purpose of wound debridement should regularly maintain high quality assurance of their species' identity to avoid possible clinical complications that may result from the introduction of an unexpected and invasive species to their laboratory colonies. © 2010 Entomological Society of America.


Williams K.,Durban Natural Science Museum | Williams K.,Rhodes University | Villet M.H.,Rhodes University
European Journal of Entomology | Year: 2013

There are important but inconsistent differences in breeding site preference betweenthe blow flies Lucilia sericata (Meigen, 1826) and L. cuprina (Wiedemann, 1830) (Diptera:Calliphoridae) that have significance for medical and veterinary science. These inconsistencies might arise from hybridisation. The species are difficult to distinguish using external morphology, although the male genitalia are distinctive and there are reliable molecular markers. Molecular evidence of modern hybridisation, derived from a newly developednuclear marker, the period (per) gene, is presented here. This has implications for identifications of these species based on mtDNA, and may lead to an explanation of the medicaland veterinary anomalies noted in these species.


News Article | March 29, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

History has not been kind to the dodo. Like a hideous specimen of bad taxidermy assembled by a person who’s never actually seen the animal they’re recreating, most of history’s accounts of the fabled bird have suffered the effects of a little too much creative license. The very first account of the dodo was from Heyndrick Dircksz Jolinck, a ship’s mate who led an expedition on the island of Mauritius in 1598, and referred to the birds as “penguins.” Jolinck, perhaps like any hungry seafarer, appeared more interested in the dodo’s nutritional properties than its scientific value, adding, “these particular birds have a stomach so large that it could provide two men with a tasty meal and was actually the most delicious part of the bird.” But now, scientists are finally able to bring the extinct bird to life with more accuracy than ever before, thanks to the first-ever 3D model of the dodo’s skeletal anatomy. The 3D skeletal atlas, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, has allowed researchers to identify unknown bones in the dodo’s skeleton, recalibrate inaccurate representations of the bird’s anatomical proportions, and make new assumptions about the way it behaved in its environment. The international team of paleontologists responsible for the new study labored for five years and poured thousands of hours into painstakingly digitizing the only two fully intact dodo skeletons presently known to man. According to the study, both dodo skeletons were discovered more than 100 years ago by Etienne Thirioux, a barber and unknown amateur naturalist, and spent a full century largely ignored by researchers in the collections of the Mauritius Institute and the Durban Natural Science Museum. One of the dodo specimens is the only known complete skeleton from a single bird. The other is nearly complete, but may be an aggregate of bones from multiple birds. Every other skeleton that we know of, including the famed Oxford dodo, is a composite reconstruction made from the bones of many different individuals. Up until now, piecing together the dodo has been like fitting together the pieces of a very complex biological puzzle. But thanks to Thirioux’s discoveries and the use of modern 3D laser surface scanning—an imaging technique that uses geometric points to capture an object’s surface shape—scientists are one step closer to demystifying one of nature’s oddest birds. One of the study’s key findings revealed that previously unidentified bones were actually the dodo’s ankles, wrist bones, and kneecaps. The dodo’s limbs, they found, were incredibly robust, and served the dual purpose of supporting their substantial weight (researchers have suggested the bird weighed somewhere between 9.5 to 18 kilograms) and endowing them with the agility needed to navigate Mauritius’ dense, dry lowland forests that were believed to be their natural habitat. And while its wings weren’t large enough to allow the dodo to fly, they did help it balance itself while moving across the ground at fast speeds. Unlike its living relatives in the pigeon family, the study added, the skull of the dodo was considerably more massive and uniquely shaped to accommodate its environment. Its large, distinctive beak was used both for foraging and for fighting. "Compared to living pigeons, the dodo's skull is very different; it is much larger, with a heavy beak, and it has undergone significant changes in shape. It is easy to see why early naturalists had a hard time placing the dodo with pigeons, but its skull is testament to its unique evolutionary trajectory,” said Dr. Hanneke Meijer, one of the study’s authors and a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, in a statement. Other findings countered popular theories about why the dodo died off, suggesting that over-hunting by humans was not the sole cause of their extinction, but rather predation by rats and other invasive species introduced by settlers was the main driving force behind their disappearance. The team hopes the 3D model will enable and inspire other scientists to embark on their own investigations of dodo anatomy, behavior, and ecology. “There are so many outstanding questions about the dodo that we were not able to tackle before,” said co-author Dr. Leon Claessens. Ever since its discovery by Dutch sailors in 1598 on the then-uninhabited island of Mauritius, the dodo, with its seemingly uncategorizable appearance and peculiar attributes, has stumped everyone who has laid eyes on it. Less than a century after humans first started scientifically documenting it, it had gone extinct. Modern scientists studying the long-gone bird have had little reliable material to work with, save for a few ships’ ledgers, several skeletons, and some dessicated body parts. A large percentage of today’s research efforts are dedicated to separating fact from fiction. “Despite a wealth of scientific and popular documentation, the life history of the dodo continues to elude us. More is known about population structure, nesting behaviour, eggs and young of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, than that of a bird that disappeared in very recent historical times due to human interference,” said Dr. Julian Hume, one of the study’s co-authors. But as new technology continues to breathe life into once-forgotten findings, perhaps it might be time to rethink the old saying, “dead as a dodo.”


Cooper M.R.,Durban Natural Science Museum
Neues Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Palaontologie - Abhandlungen | Year: 2016

The subfamily Pleurotrigoniinae has long been treated a synonym of the Trigoniinae. Here two new genera and two new species of pleurotrigoniine bivalve are described from the Cretaceous of South Africa and Australia, providing the evolutionary link between Aptian Sphenotrigonia and Cenomanian Pleurotrigonia, the type species of which are re-described. These new taxa establish the subfamily Pleurotrigoniinae as an important Gondwanic lineage, ranging in age from Barremian to Maastrichtian. The early growth stages of Sphenotrigonia point unequivocally to an origin in Nototrigonia, and here the subfamily Nototrigoniinae is reduced to a tribe within Pleurotrigoniinae. The new tribe Kupengini is separated from Nototrigoniini and assigned to Neotrigoniinae, of which it is regarded the progenitor. © 2016 E. Schweizerbart'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart, Germany.


PubMed | Durban Natural Science Museum
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Cytogenetic and genome research | Year: 2016

Pteropodidae and Hipposideridae are 2 of the 9 chiropteran families that occur on Madagascar. Despite major advancements in the systematic study of the islands bat fauna, few karyotypic data exist for endemic species. We utilized G- and C-banding in combination with chromosome painting with Myotismyotis probes to establish a genome-wide homology among Malagasy species belonging to the families Pteropodidae (Pteropus rufus 2n = 38; Rousettus madagascariensis, 2n = 36), Hipposideridae (Hipposideros commersoni s.s., 2n = 52), and a single South African representative of the Rhinolophidae (Rhinolophus clivosus, 2n = 58). Painting probes of M. myotis detected 26, 28, 28, and 29 regions of homology in R. madagascariensis, P. rufus, H. commersoni s.s, and R. clivosus, respectively. Translocations, pericentric inversions, and heterochromatin additions were responsible for karyotypic differences amongst the Malagasy pteropodids. Comparative chromosome painting revealed a novel pericentric inversion on P. rufus chromosome 4. Chromosomal characters suggest a close evolutionary relationship between Rousettus and Pteropus. H. commersoni s.s. shared several chromosomal characters with extralimital congeners but did not exhibit 2 chromosomal synapomorphies proposed for Hipposideridae. This study provides further insight into the ancestral karyotypes of pteropodid and hipposiderid bats and corroborates certain molecular phylogenetic hypotheses.

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