Because of its relative abundance of fossils, the South African Karoo serves as a basis for dating rocks of Permian and Triassic age worldwide.
It is also the only place in the world that documents the ecological effects of three mass extinctions: the end-Guadalupian (260 ma), Permo-Triassic (252 ma) and end-Triassic (201 ma ) extinctions.
Also the Karoo documents one of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems and hosts the most distant ancestors of tortoises, dinosaurs and mammals. Indeed the Karoo is internationally famous for its superb record of therapsid fossils which chronicle, in remarkable detail, the ancient origins of mammals.
All these make Karoo palaeontology crucial for understanding the origin of modern biodiversity and the ongoing 6th mass extinction.
We will prospect the oldest terrestrial deposits of the Karoo to elucidate life on land during the middle Permian. While the most iconic Karoo fossil taxa (dicynodonts, gorgonopsians, dinocephalians) are well documented in more recent parts of the basin, the fauna in the lower stratigraphic levels remains unexplored.
Our project focuses on exploration of this ancient neglected fauna through fieldwork to collect fossils and describe new species, study the geology to understand environmental change, and discover volcanic ashes for zircon dating.
The project has the potential to re-write the early evolutionary history of many important animal groups, study the most ancient terrestrial ecosystem in the southern hemisphere, and understand the causes of the Guadalupian extinction.
We wish to bring a team of 8 researchers and students from around the world to the oldest rocks of the South African Karoo, in the districts of Merweville, Sutherland and Beaufort West, to prospect for fossils. The fieldtrip will take place at the beginning of 2020 and will run for 14 days. The aim is to find fossils from lower down in the stratigraphy, identify them, determine their exact stratigraphic position, and understand middle Permian biodiversity on land. Exact zircon dating on volcanic ashes will help constrain the age of these horizons and enable faunal comparison with similar-aged deposits around the globe. South African students will be trained to field techniques relating to Karoo palaeontology and its heritage to ensure the future of the discipline in the country.
Compostable plastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA) cannot withstand high temperatures compared to traditional plastics. As such, PLA is not used for things such as disposable coffee cups, straws, plates, etc. Combining inorganic compounds with PLA should improve its physical properties, possibly improving heat resistance and overall strength. With this experiment, I will more thoroughly test this new material to establish if it can be a new, greener plastic option for manufacturers.
Human activities are causing unprecedented impacts on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems around the globe. Measuring ocean temperature, as well as other metrics, is an important way of monitoring ocean health. A number of oceanographic sensors exist, but they are expensive and rarely web-enabled. Scientists and the public need affordable tools to measure ocean parameters in real time.
Marine mammals, like dolphins, eat food contaminated by microplastic pollution, which could cause serious health effects. This project will evaluate samples from marine mammals stranded on beaches to determine whether microplastics or additives are present in their tissues. We will evaluate which species are exposed to plastic pollution and where it is found in the body. This project is a critical step for understanding risks of microplastics to marine mammals.
The recent ban of neonicotinoids across Europe due to their impacts on the bee population has raised concern that other common garden products have similar impacts. We set out to investigate how glyphosates – herbicides, give rise to complications in bee health and their overall population numbers.
We hypothesise that bees exposed to glyphosates will experience increased vulnerability to parasitic infections, along with negative changes in foraging behaviour and foraging ability.
Pollinators play an important role in human life in regards to food security and other ecosystem services they provide. To do this they require flowering plants for food and shelter resources. Bees are experiencing declines in their population which is influenced by human influence, be it land-use change or agricultural intensity. Neonicotinoids have recently been found to have detrimental effects on bees, however, the effects of glyphosates on bumblebee productivity and parasitology has yet to be investigated. With the suggested impacts on human health upon consumption, the impact on our bees can only be imagined.
They have found that garden products containing neonicotinoids have major impacts on bee health and function, it may be hypothesised that similar garden products, like Roundup, could possess similar effects on our bees. With this research we hope to investigate the effects of glyphosates (herbicides) on bumblebees, specifically, how they affect bumblebee health and productivity. This research could potentially become a small piece of a larger very important puzzle.
We hypothesise that bees exposed to glyphosates will experience increased vulnerability to parasitic infections. We will test this by treating the colonies with sugar solution, half of which contain glyphosates. We will then run a series of dissections before and after wild release and compare parasite infection rate between glyphosate treated and sugar solution treated colonies.
We also hypothesize that bees will experience negative changes in foraging behaviour and foraging ability. We will test this by running a range of choice experiments to determine whether bees choose flowers sprayed with glyphosates regardless of toxicity.
If the hypothesis is supported, results could be used in management plans to facilitate bee conservation.