Not long now…
With roughly one week to go until I depart for my fieldwork I should be running around doing last-minute preparations. Instead I thought it might be fun to take some time out to tell you a little bit about what I’m going to be up to for the month.
So where exactly am I going?
My expedition is heading to a part of South Africa that is still relatively unexplored in terms of invertebrate diversity – Maputaland Sand Forest! Even the name sounds cool so you already know it’s going to be awesome. I’ll be driving the nine hours from Pretoria, on a road skirting around the bottom of Swaziland, until I reach my site in the north-eastern corner of the country. I will be working at the fantastic Tembe Elephant Park. Having met a number of researchers who’ve conducted fieldwork there I was repeatedly told what an amazing site it was. I was lucky enough to visit the reserve last month to scout out fieldwork plans and I can now see why everybody falls in love with it. It is such a beautiful place filled with incredible wildlife. And from only one day walking around I can tell we’re going to find some very cool ants there.
The Tembe fact file
Tembe Elephant Park was established the same year as I was born (!) and was primarily developed to protect elephants. The reserve sits on the border with Mozambique and has a subtropical climate. I’ve been told that summer temperatures reach 45 °C and combined with high humidity I’m expecting things to get pretty sticky. Tembe has some of the oldest (and largest) elephants in southern Africa. These enormous animals are known as tuskers. Once you’ve seen a photo you’ll understand why. There are also lions, buffalo, hippos and possibly one of my favourite antelope, nyala. Tembe is also home to a pack of African wild dogs, which are among the most endangered canids in the world. Watching the wild dogs play together, only metres in front of me, is easily in my top wildlife experiences of all time.
Sand forest. Yup, that’s a real thing!
Within the reserve there are swamps and open woodland that are home to incredible plants and animals. However, the bit I’m really interested in studying is the sand forest. This ancient forest grows on relics of coastal sand dunes. It is only found in South Africa in Kwa-Zulu Natal province and in southern Mozambique making it a very rare forest type. Many of the plant species are endemic to the region, as are species of dung beetles, birds and spiders. There is no doubt that a huge array of new species, especially invertebrates, are waiting to be discovered in the Tembe sand forest. And that is where I come in.
An entomologists dream
When I say that this is a unique place for insect diversity I am absolutely not exaggerating. I only had a few hours looking round the reserve but the diversity of bugs, butterflies, grasshoppers, mantids (and the list goes on), that I saw was staggering. I will be spending a few weeks making collections of ants in Tembe Elephant Park. But I will no doubt be spotting lots of other invertebrates at the same time. I’m sure I’ll make some exciting discoveries and get to do some interesting research along the way. I can’t wait to update you on what I find.
Want to know more?
Here are a few links to blogs about Tembe and a couple of papers on research that has already been conducted there.