Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fynbos and Fish Parasites

We have been staying at De Hoop Nature Reserve for the past week for our last round of Faculty Field Projects (FFPs). De Hoop is in the Western Cape and about 5 hours from Cape Town. We are still in a fynbos habitat where proteas, ericas, and restios abound. Unfortunately, there is very little flowering at the moment, but the species that are flowering are quite spectacular.
For the FFPs, we worked on restoration ecology with Dr. Sue Milton and fish parasitology with two professors from University of Cape Town. The first project focused on the restoration of fynbos and karoo vegetation after alien species invasion. Fynbos is domianted by short shrubs and any trees in this environment are non-native. We looked at sites where non-native trees have been cleared to allow the regrowth of fynbos vegetation and how ant communities and soils differ between undisturbed sites and sites disturbed at different time intervals. My job was to take soil samples and test soil pH. This involved digging under leaf litter to characterize soils and evaluating the density of leaf litter.
For the other project, we went fishing! Using large and small nets we caught 20 indigenous fish and 20 non-native fish. Using a dissection kit and microscopes, we looked on the outside and inside of the fish for different species of parasites. Sometimes parasites can only be seen with a microscope and sometimes large colonies of worms spilled out of organs as we sliced into the fish. One of the more amusing moments came when we caught a few extra fish for dinner on the first day before we proceeded to dissect the fish. After seeing the parasites, most of the students requested a vegetarian dish.
I have been hiking each day across the mountains behind the environmental center where we are staying. There is a colony of Cape vultures that nests on the cliffs and while they are not easy to photograph I can make them out with my binoculars. There are also a number of neat lizard species here with brilliantly colored bellies that they flash during mating displays.
Yesterday we had our day off and ventured to Cape Agulhas, the southermost point of Africa. We climbed out onto the rocks and explored for a few minutes before climbing back into the car and visiting the beach. Tomorrow we return to Cape Town and from there will fly to Johannesburg for the last leg of our trip. Kruger will be green when we return and will be dramatically different from the park that we left. I am looking forward to getting back and seeing all of the baby animals that should arrive as spring progresses.
More soon!

The landscape images are from Cape Point and the second image of ostriches is from the ostrich farms surrounding De Hoop.


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