Doctoral Degrees (Environmental Biology)

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    The sardine run : investigating sardine and predator distribution in relation to environmental conditions using GIS and remotely sensed products.
    (2009) O'Donoghue, Sean Henry.; Peddemors, Victor Marten.
    The sardine run is a spectacular but poorly understood natural phenomenon. This research aims to broaden scientific knowledge pertaining to sardine, Sardinops sagax, distribution, both in relation to their predators and environmental conditions. Sardine distribution was closely related to sea temperature. Sardines were sighted every year along the Lower Wild Coast, where continental shelf conditions were cooled by the Port Alfred upwelling cell. To the north of Mbashe River, shelf conditions were dominated by the warm Agulhas Current, and sardine distribution varied annually in close relation with sea temperature conditions. Along this coastline sardine abundance always peaked between Waterfall Bluff and Port St Johns with favourable conditions caused by the westward inflection of the coastline and the shelf bathymetry. Topographically-induced upwelling was concluded to be the cause of cooler sea temperatures and elevated chl a concentrations. Although chl a concentration appeared to be associated with east coast sardine distribution, the uncertainty with regards data accuracy hindered their usefulness as a predictor of suitable biological conditions for sardine. Sardine northward movement along the KZN coastline was impeded adjacent to the Durban Eddy, where they were forced shorewards by the warm conditions. This coincided with the peak in beach seine catches. The Cape Gannet, Morus capensis, was very closely associated with sardine along the entire east coast. Their abundance declined substantially adjacent to the Durban Eddy. Prevailing atmospheric conditions affected gannet behaviour: they travelled more frequently during strong alongshore winds and foraged more upon cessation of such winds. Gannets were closely associated with feeding dolphins at both coarse and fine scales, and responded to changes in dolphin behaviour. Common dolphin, Delphinus capensis, abundance and group size peaked between Waterfall Bluff and Port St Johns. Along this stretch of coastline they travelled more slowly, and in pods more perpendicular to the bathymetry of the region. Bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus, abundance increased during the sardine run with the influx of a migrant stock which reached the KZN Mid South Coast. Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, and sardine distributions did not appear to be related.
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    A study of some of the inter-relationships between maize and the seed storage fungi as typified by Aspergillus flavus var. columnaris.
    (1990) Mycock, David John.; Berjak, Patricia.
    The seed storage fungi (xerotolerant) species of the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium} are renowned for their devastating effects on stored grain and grain products. In view of the fact that most of these fungi Iiberate toxins which can be harmful to both man and his livestock this problem is becoming increasingly relevant, particularly in developing countries. The seed storage fungi are said to be saprophytes and opportunistic invaders of dead or naturally dried organic matter, and as such no direct host-pathogen relationship has been ascribed to them. This dissertation reports aspects of an investigation into the modes/pathways utilised by these fungi in their infection of maize caryopses (seeds) and plants. The work involved studies on: the effects of protracted storage on maize seeds; the morphology of storage fungi; extra-cellular enzymes of storage fungi; the pathways utiIised by the storage fungi in invasion of seed tissues; and the effects of the storage fungi on the seeds. Correlations have been made on a species basis between the extent of seed deterioration and fungal aggressiveness. The results of these investigations indicated that apart from affecting seed vigour and viability, these fungi can also affect plant vigour. This latter aspect was further investigated to determine whether a seed storage fungus could infect germinating maize seeds, and remain an internal contaminant of the tissues during plant growth and development. These latter studies revealed that Aspergillus flavus var. columnaris is capable of systemic transmission from one seed generation to the next. This hitherto unrecognised phenomenon apart from indicating that the fungal species is in fact a biotroph as well as a saprophyte, also has implications In control measures.
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    The effects of elephant and mesoherbivores on woody vegetation.
    (2011) Lagendijk, Daisy Diana Georgette.; Slotow, Robert Hugh.; Page, Bruce Richard.
    Herbivores are important drivers and have a longstanding history in shaping our terrestrial environments. However, during the past decades, changes in woody vegetation in savanna and forest systems have been observed in southern Africa. Subsequently, concerns have been raised about the loss of (tall) trees in areas with elephant. The relative effects of browsing herbivores on vegetation and the potential browsing interaction with other herbivore species remain unclear and were examined using vegetation transects and exclosure experiments in savanna woodland and Sand Forest. Rainfall, fire and elephant were important savanna determinants. Especially rainfall positively affected woody densities, which were negatively affected by a longer exposure time to elephant, but not to elephant densities itself. In general, within South Africa’s savannas, tree height classes were absent from the population demography. Different height classes were likely to be impacted by different drivers. For example, seedling and sapling densities were greater with longer fire return periods and increased rainfall. The Sand Forest exclosure experiments showed that forest regeneration was impacted by nyala and both elephant and nyala, as the absence of both species increased tree densities. Both species combined, and individually, also affected tree species assemblages. In contrast, short term elephant access to a savanna area did not affect tree densities or species assemblages. In both savanna and Sand Forest elephant displaced mesoherbivores, and in Sand Forest both elephant and mesoherbivores displaced their smaller counterparts. The presence of competitive displacement also affected recruitment (i.e. seedlings and/or saplings) of woody vegetation both in Sand Forest and savanna. Thus, elephant and mesoherbivores exert direct and indirect (i.e. competitive displacement providing a window for recruitment) impact on vegetation. Active management of the herbivore species assemblage affects both vegetation and other herbivores, which effects potentially cascade into lower trophic levels, jeopardising biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Therefore, the full herbivore assemblage present and their combined and individual browsing effects need to be considered when setting management goals to conserve habitats and biodiversity across all trophic levels. In addition some contrasting results between Sand Forest and savanna emphasise the need for caution when extrapolating results from different areas and ecosystems.
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    Systematic revision of the golden mole genera : Amblysomus, Chlorotalpa and Calcochloris (Insectivora : Chrysochloromorpha ; Chrysochloridae)
    (1995) Bronner, Gary N.; Meester, Jurgens Anthonie Jansen.; Rautenbach, Ignatius Lourens.; Cooke, John Anthony.; Willan, Kenneth Brian Ronald.
    Patterns of variation in hyoid morphology, chromosomal properties and craniodental characteristics among ten chrysochlorid species from South Africa were studied to clarify generic relationships among taxa assigned variably to Amblysomus, Chlorotalpa and Calcochloris by previous authors. Intra-specific variation in hyoid morphology was negligible, but inter-specific differences were marked. Similarly, intra-specific karyotypic variation was negligible, except in A. hottentotus, which displayed three cytotypes. These data supported the recognition of Chlorotalpa, Calcochloris and Neamblysomus as taxa distinct from Amblysomus. Only one (presence/absence of M3) of the seven dental traits used by previous authors was consistent enough within species to be taxonomically useful in this work. Dental variability within species appeared to arise from the morphological differences between deciduous and permanent teeth, which may occur together in the same toothrow. Intra-specific craniometric variation in most species involved pronounced sexual size dimorphism, but negligible age-related variation. In the more widespread species, patterns of geographic variation were dominated by divergence in overall size, although subtle differences in cranial shape were also evident. Multivariate analyses confirmed the validity of subspecies in Chlorotalpa sclateri and Calcochloris obtusirostris, and showed that A. hottentotus (as traditionally recognized) includes: four cryptic species; five subspecies (including A. h. iris); and several populations that should be relegated to A. corriae. Inter-specific morphometric variation was dominated by overall size. The species fell into two size groups, and eight phena that differed mainly in skull width, palatal shape, rostrum breadth and claw size. Inter-specific relationships suggested by phenetic analyses of metric and mixed-mode data were, however, incongruent owing to discordance between different data suites. Evolutionary relationships inferred by integrating data suites, using either equal or differential weights, indicated that a strong phylogenetic signal was present in the data. Phylogenetic analyses showed that the differentially weighted treatment was more consilient with character-state distributions. A phylogram based on the differential-weights cladogram was used to derive a revised phylogenetic classification for the Chrysochloridae. Unlike previous treatments, this classification affords Carpitalpa and Neamblysomus generic rank, and assigns C. leucorhina from equatorial Africa to Calcochloris, rather than to Chlorotalpa.