Endangered Species Recovery in Mauritius

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On Round Island with a Gunther’s Gecko

My name is George Sayer, I have recently started on the newly accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Endangered Species Recovery, based in Mauritius. The course is run by Durrell Conservation Training Ltd (part of Durrell Wildlife Preservation Society) in collaboration with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Government of Mauritius National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS), and is accredited by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent.

I have been kindly invited by Andrew to share a few of my experiences on the FrogBlog.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.21.45I have just returned from 5 days on Round Island, a 214 Ha islet 22.5km off the coast of Mauritius. The island is essentially a large volcano with a breached cone at the centre. It was designated a nature reserve in 1957 and contains the last remnant of a lowland, plant-rich community dominated by endemic palms that was once widespread on Mauritius.

The island also boasts an ecosystem containing endemic seabirds and invertebrates. The island is free of introduced mammals (rodents have never made it, rabbits and goats have been exterminated) allowing an internationally significant and relatively-intact reptile community to survive, consisting of 7 endemic species:

  • Keel-scaled boa
  • Gunther’s gecko
  • Telfair skink
  • Durrell’s Night Gecko
  • Ornate Day-Gecko
  • Bojer’s Skink

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.31.26The more common Bouton’s skink also lives along the rocky shoreline. Before recent reintroductions 4 of these species only survived on this island, having previously been extirpated from Mainland Mauritius. Unfortunately another species, the Burrowing Boa is thought to now be extinct, having not been seen since 1975, but populations of the other reptiles appear to be doing well.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.28.12The island is now being used as a source from which to repopulate other offshore islands with reptiles to ensure continued survival in the face of human and environmental threats. Radiated and Aldabra Giant tortoises have been introduced onto the island to act as ecological replacements for the 2 extinct Mauritian tortoise species. They do a good job of suppressing invasive weeds and spreading the seeds of the native vegetation.

Access to the island is prohibited to the public to minimize risks of invasive species arriving or any damage to the ecosystem. The entire shoreline is rocky, making the only means of entry a long boat ride and a jump onto the rocks, or a Mauritian Police helicopter. This helps the wardens enforce this rule. This island along with several others around Mauritius is an exciting example of “marooning” endangered species away from multiple threats and recreating lost ecosystems as best we can.

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust      Mauritian Wildlife Foundation    NPCS

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Pygmy Leaf Chameleons

Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, Rieppeleon breavicaudatus. (c) Matthew O'Donnell

Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, Rieppeleon breavicaudatus. (c) Matthew O’Donnell

Here on the Frog Blog we are no strangers to frogs that look like leaves. However leaf mimicry is not an adaptation exclusive to frogs, in fact there are a lot of species (often hard to find) that use this body design to evade detection from predators. One such species that I currently work with is the Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (Rieppeleon breavicaudatus) which is a tiny species of stump-tailed chameleon originating from the Eastern Usambara and Uluguru mountains in Tanzania.

IMG_0691This is a tiny species, with adults rarely exceeding 82mm in length. In fact they can be as small as 50mm fully gown. They are characterised by their high and laterally compressed body and reduced tail, which when combined together with their distinct lateral stripes have a remarkable similarity to a dead or wilted leaf. Unlike a lot of chameleons this species will spend a lot of time on or close to the forest floor hunting for small invertebrates.

Eggs of Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (C) M. O'Donnell.

Eggs of Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (C) M. O’Donnell.

This specialisation has enabled them to be become very successful in surviving, and in the places they occur they are considered locally common. Maintaining and breeding this species in captivity is also becoming more successful.

Females can produce between two and six eggs up to six times per year; the eggs resemble tiny tic tacs and will incubate in an incredibly short time – as quick as in 40 days given the right temperature and humidity!

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The young hatch out looking like complete miniatures of the adults, and are about 18mm in length and begin feeding almost immediately.  These chameleons live life in the fast lane and take only nine months to reach maturity, which is necessary for reproducing as in the wild they can expect to live for only a couple of years at best. I am sure you will agree with me that they are a fascinating little chameleon species, and I will be happy to keep you updated on my work with them.

Orquídeas de Mallorca

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Yellow Bee Orchid, Ophrys lutea

Hi, Tom here. After a very busy year starting at Manchester University and moving house, I have become somewhat quiet here on the FrogBlog. However, I have just returned from a week’s fieldwork on comparative and adaptive biology on the sunny island of Mallorca, and felt this would be appropriate time for an orchid-filled return.

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Mallorca is a rather unique island, with an interesting mix of European, African and Endemic species. The island owes its existence to uplifting of limestone rock due to micro-tectonics. The presence of this limestone has created a rather nutrient poor, alkaline environment, in which Orchids appear to thrive.

The main Orchids abundant on the limestone Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, in the north of Mallorca, is the genus, Ophrys. This genus is often referred to as the “Bee Orchids” because the lower petal, known as the Lebellum has been highly modified through millions of years of selection to imitate the thorax of a female bee, or wasp. This method of pollination is known as “sexually deception”, because the flower itself does not provide a nectar reward to its pollinator, but more of a devious misidentification for a bee trying to have an intimate time. Even more interestingly, the flower releases a chemical signal identical to a female insect’s pheromone, and once a male has been attracted to the flower of the Orchid, it attempts copulation. During this vigorous act, pollen is attached to the males head using a sticky appendage called a Pollinia.

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys bombyliflora

Ophrys bombyliflora

As you can see from the images, each Ophrys species has co-evolved to mimic a specific insect. This specificity is rather adaptively disadvantages, as with the British O. apifera, the bee that once pollinated it has become extinct in the UK.

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Fortunately the pollinators are still abundant in Mallorca, and as part of my fieldwork I counted the presence of pollinia within the flowers of O. bombilyflora, O. lutea and O. speculum, and whether their flowers had or hadn’t been visited by an eager male bee. What we discovered was that no matter what size the population of Orchids was at different sites approximately 20% would have been visited by bees.

Ophrys species also show a high degree of variance between individuals. The flowers may exhibit completely different coloured petals, or Lebellums of distinctly different shapes. One highly variable species is O. fusca, which was observed at several locations, the specimen photographed may represent the subsp. dyris, but this is uncertain. Another species, O. speculum, is by far the most spectacular of Mallorca’s Ophrys, with its brightly coloured blue mirror and fuzzy perimeter. Although this species doesn’t show much variance, we unexpectedly stumbled across an example that had a rare mutation for albinism. Early in the week a specimen was observed with a white mirror, but this one exhibited a completely un-pigmented flower. This incredibly rare specimen was the pinnacle of a great week, of flowers, fun and Mediterranean sun.

Herbology Manchester      Manchester Museum – Plants     FLS – Fieldcourses

Ophrys speculum "albiflora"

Ophrys speculum “albiflora”

Ophrys speculum

Ophrys speculum

Fitness for the Ark

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum (c) Luiza Pasos

Although we all agree wild animals belong in the wild, it is still becoming increasing common for ex-situ captive breeding being used as a back-up conservation plan. However, although much efforts are put into establishing such initiatives, we are only now beginning to fully assess their viability so far as it becoming a really useful tool for successfully reintroducing amphibians back to the wild.

At the moment here in Manchester we are studying the effects of captivity on several species using a variety of different methods in order to try and quantify the changes that occur in captive-bred and reared animals compared to wild stocks, all with a view to understanding how we can ensure their natural characteristics and behaviours can be retained. Phylommedusine frogs have characters and behaviours that already set them apart from other amphibians so they make particularly interesting models when studying these aspects. Currently we have 2 PhD students studying different species in the vivarium, one focusing on changes to frog skin pigments in captivity, and the other their fitness and changes to their anti-predator responses.

tgrl9cJyU2bHE8MRqzGBFIf4Yzi86KZGh8TqVKJwgyELuiza Pasos focuses her studies on amphibian and reptile behaviour and ecology, and after completing her Masters, she initially decided to move to the Brazilian Amazon and work in a community based project relating to the sustainable management of the Black Caiman, Melanosuchus niger.

Now conducting further research for her PhD with Salford University, Luiza is comparing the behaviour of the Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, a close relative of another species found where she is from in Brazil.

 

The non-invasive research work in the vivarium involves assessing animals being maintained in different conditions, and it is hoped that Luiza’s study will provide us with a much better understanding of the effects a variety of husbandry techniques have on the captive animals so we can best retain their natural instincts, wild state of health, and maintain them in the best possible conditions so they are fit for the future.

Luiza’s Phd research is supported by Science Without Borders, a wonderful supportive academic initiative by the Brazilian Government.

 Luiza’s research     Chris’s research    Science Without Borders      Salford Uni

Happy Easter!

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Newborn chameleon loves the leaves made by pupils of Trinity and St Michaels.

Most people associate Easter with the birth of spring lambs and chicks – but in our house its something different..  Last week we had an unexpected surprise – the birth of 12 baby Jackson’s chameleons! After months of speculation as to whether our pigmy female was just fat with wind, she finally gave birth. What an amazing sight, the tiniest of chameleons, everywhere!

Last week was a fantastic week in many ways, ending in the BHS herpetological symposium, which was very well received. It was a pleasure hosting it and I would sincerely like to thank all those who attended, the other speakers, and the BHS for their most welcome support of our Lemur Frog Project.

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Chameleon by Esmee, Reception, Trinity and St Michaels

Midweek, I also had the opportunity to teach at a local school, and share all about Costa Rica, one of my favourite places. The whole school welcomed me and all the pupils and staff were absolute stars. It was wonderful to teach so many enthusiastic and well-behaved children. It really was a pleasure to visit Trinity and St Michaels Primary School with all the animals. Thank you so much to all the children who have shown their appreciation, I loved the card! Maybe more from them soon, but for now, let me sure some of their pics and from us and our new baby chameleons, we wish you all a Very Happy Easter!

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TRINITY AND ST MICHAELS                BHS                  MUJI CHAMELEONS

Herpetological Symposium

logoManchester Museum is proud to be hosting the British Herpetological Society’s 2015 symposium, incorporating their AGM and a number of herpetological talks. This is the first time the BHS has held an AGM outside London and this particular event is open to both non-members and BHS members, which now total over 600.

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Established in 1947, the British Herpetological Society is one of the most prestigious herpetological societies in the world, with their journal ranked as one of the leading scientific publications devoted to herpetology. Via publications, specialist committees and meetings, the society actively supports the conservation of native British species, field studies and conservation management work worldwide, scientific research, and the responsible captive breeding and maintenance of reptile and amphibian species.

They also actively support the exchange of knowledge and expertise between enthusiasts and herpetologists both in the UK and around the world, so this particular event is aimed at just that. Joining us on the day we have one of our very own Professors from the Faculty of Life Sciences, Richard Preziosi, and the Curator of lower vertebrates and vertebrates at Chester Zoo, Dr Gerardo Garcia, who will both be talking about their herpetological research and conservation work.

IMG_1729Attendees will also not only have the opportunity to visit our recently reinterpreted vivarium  exhibits, but during my talk they will also have the chance to see first hand many rare and endangered amphibians normally kept behind the scenes at the museum.

Join us for a day of herpetology, next Saturday, the 28th March. Admission is free.

BHS     MUSEUM DIRECTIONS    FACULTY OF LIFE SCIENCES      CHESTER ZOO

The Green Machine

Recently Tara and I experienced ‘The Green Machine’ – no, not a new environmentally-friendly Aston Martin :), but a wonderful supplier of the most amazing aquatic plants, and the UK specialist in Aquascaping.

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The Green Machine is an aquatics store based in Cheshire that supplies high end, state of the art, aquariums and related equipment. We found it to be full of beautiful displays and a very cool place to visit. From the minute we walked through the door we were inspired by what we saw, and we also found the staff to be absolutely brilliant – so friendly and knowledgeable about the subject, we would definitely describe them as real experts in aquascaping. Its an amazing place.

Tropica plants

Top quality Tropica plants available at The Green Machine. (c) Andrew Gray

As well as being able to give some excellent practical advice in the most modern aquarium and aquatic plant keeping techniques, they also provide everything from the best quality aquariums, lighting, etc, as well a truly amazing selection of top quality aquatic plants.

Aquascaping itself is creating a small, totally natural, section of tropical riverbank within the confines of your own home. The vision of these guys is to change the face of aquatics in the UK into it becoming more of an art form. The emphasis of that art being the beautiful landscape seen within the aquarium, that is totally in harmony with nature. After visiting The Green Machine, we feel sure they are well on their way to achieving their vision.

 

THE GREEN MACHINE         FLORAQUATIC (France)     AQUATIC PLANTS       ADA

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