James Aronson recently visited Gobabeb recently, from 14th to 16th March 2016:
Our friend and colleague James Aronson, his son Thibaud and colleague Marc Sitbon visited Gobabeb recently. James, who has a long association with southern Africa as a restoration ecologist, is also a botanist and “desert-phile”, with many publications on plants of deserts and the restoration of degraded drylands. Their visit was part of an extended trip through Namibia and South Africa, doing some research for their upcoming book on trees of the world’s deserts. They were particularly interested in our Welwitschias, which are considered to be “dwarf trees”. Have a look at their blog on their Namibian visit (an upcoming posting will feature Welwitschia specifially).
Vanni and Erminia Costa recently visited Gobabeb over the holidays, from 18th to 25th December 2015:
Vanni and Erminia Costa from the University of Catania (Italy) have been carrying out a long term project on behavioural adaptations of desert arthropods. Since 1991 their interest has been focused on some populations of Ariadna spiders that they discovered in various gravel areas of Namib Desert. These spiders dig in the soil an individual silk-lined burrow with a circular entrance surrounded by a ring of small stones (see photo), and sometimes also lichen bits. The silk threads placed under the stones enable the predator, waiting at the bottom of its burrow, to detect prey brushing against them. The features of the burrow rings vary according to population and habitat.
Staff from the NPL (National Physical Laboratory, UK) in collaboration with CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales, France) came to Gobabeb from 22nd November - 5th December 2015:
The purpose of this visit was a site characterisation to find a perfect location for a permanent measurement site that will be installed to continuously monitor the atmosphere and surface reflectance for satellite radiometric calibration. Ground reflectance was measured using an ASD portable spectroradiometer and GRASS, the Gonio-Radiometric Spectrometer System. The ASDs were used to assess the uniformity of the site over a wide area. Between the CNES and NPL teams, small scale and large scale areas were covered, and long transects measured. GRASS enabled us to measure the HDRF (Hemispherical Directional Reflectance Factor), or the angular distribution of reflectance. We’re grateful to Gobabeb Research and Training Centre for hosting us and allowing us to conduct our tests on ground reflectance and we’re looking forward to returning later on this year for the permanent site installation.
Andreas Gehring, Peter Weidler, Katharina Hagenauer and Stefan Schultheiss visited Gobabeb from 16th to 19th November 2015:
Andreas Gehring, Peter Weidler and Katharina Hagenauer of ETH in Zürich, and Stefan Schultheiss, a locally based geophysicist, recently visited Gobabeb to conduct fieldwork in their project on the magnetic features of the sand in the Namib Sand Sea dunes. Here is what they have to say about their project and their visit:
“A typical feature of the Namib Sand Sea is its relative high content of basaltic rock fragments that are indicative of the primary sand source. Our previous research has shown that the parent rock of the fragments is most likely the Karoo basalt in the Drakensberge of Lesotho, the catchment area of the Orange river. The basaltic rock fragments are highly magnetic, i.e. they can easely be separated with a hand magnet, and their concentration and distribution in the Namib can be used as proxy to infer transport mechanism and mixing properties of the sand from the source to the depositional environment, and this in turn, can provide an insight into the formation of the Namib. In our first field campaign in 2009 we mainly collected sand samples along the coast between Lüderitz and Walvis Bay and only a few samples were taken from inland dunes. In the present field campaign we collected samples along a transect closer to the eastern border of the Sand Sea, in order to obtain a more complete sampling grid that permits a more detailed picture of the formation of the Namib Sand Sea.”
Dartmouth College Students Visit Gobabeb, November 1st - 15th, 2015 for Field Course:
In November, a group of 14 Dartmouth College undergraduates visited Gobabeb as part of Dartmouth’s Environmental Studies Foreign Study Program. For ten days, they conducted original research and then returned to present their findings to staff and local community members. Two projects focused on monitoring health of the !nara; one examined phenology and found that costal !nara sites were more phenologically advanced than those inland, as well as identifying potential pollinators for the !nara. The other project investigated the structure of !nara hummocks, the small sand dunes that form around the base of each plant and established a monitoring protocol using a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) donated to Gobabeb by Dartmouth College. Both projects focused on possible effects of climate change on the !nara and in the hopes that long-term monitoring will provide more insight.
Another project fleshed out a 5-day program at Gobabeb for Grade 7 students from JP Brand, the nearby school. This 5-day program is one aspect of the Fund for Local Communities (FLC) grant Gobabeb received from the Finnish Embassy, and the first beneficiaries will arrive at Gobabeb early in 2016. Finally, a fourth project examined resource distribution and use by livestock in the area. Information about their consumption of Faidherbia albida and Acacia erioloba pods, daily activities and movements were collected. This is the 13th year Dartmouth visited Gobabeb and the fourth year that students conducted extensive independent research.
Torben Callesen Job-shadowing in the Namib from 10th August to 14th August:
Torben Callesen, a Grade 11 learner at St Paul’s College, came to Gobabeb on Sunday 10th August (after attending the first two days of the PGRFA Research Methodology Training Course in Windhoek, 04-05 August) in order to job-shadow Dr Gillian, Executive Director. He assisted staff members where he could, doing activities such as helping to prepare the plant pots and soil for the experiment that will be performed by the YES group later in the month; sorting reference books in the library; persistently trying to catch lizards on the dunes for the station’s terrarium and last, but not least, helping the researchers at Gobabeb to spot falling meteors in the freezing early hours of the morning (including providing snacks while camping amongst the dunes for that reason). Torben also gave a presentation about his recent trip to Norway as part of the I.C.E climate education camp. He left on 13th August with a lot more knowledge about Gobabeb and the desert itself, a sense of affection for the quiet and remote environment and a definite appreciation for hot chocolate at 04:30 in the morning.
Plant physiologists from South Africa and Switzerland visited Gobabeb from 2nd August to 7th August 2014:
Dr Jacques Berner and Prof Gert Krüger, both from the North-West University in Potchestroom, South Africa, and Prof Reto Strasser, from University of Geneva in Switzerland, visited Gobabeb recently. They are collaborating with Gobabeb-NERMU in a project to understand the ecology and physiology of Welwitschia mirabilis, especially in terms of possible mining impacts. The project is being funded by Swakop Uranium and through the South-Africa-Namibia Joint Science Initiative, and Titus Shuuya, Senior Technician (NERMU) at Gobabeb will be earning his Masters degree through this. During their current visit, which is their second to the Centre in the last two years, they made measurements of stomatal conductance and photosynthetic efficiency of plants near the Husab Mine and of others near Gobabeb. This data will bring more clarity to the developing understanding of this iconic inhabitant of the Namib Desert and will eventually help us in designing a species management plan to mitigate potential impacts.
Scientists of the Zoological Society of London visited Gobabeb on the 20th June 2014:
The Tsaobis Baboon Project was initiated in 1990 and since 2000 has developed into a long-term research programme to study desert baboons and their wider environment. It is based at Tsaobis Nature Park on the Swakop River, on the edge of the Namib Desert. Research is carried out in conjunction with Tsaobis Nature Park, in affiliation with the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, and with the support of both the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The UK home of the Tsaobis Baboon Project is the Institute of Zoology, the research arm of the Zoological Society of London. Current research focuses on: Sexual coercion in baboons, which aims to understand the extent to which male and female group members exert social control over female reproduction; information use in social networks, which aims to understand how individuals acquire important information from other individuals in the group; and parasites and the environment, which aims to understand seasonal variation in baboon health.
Drs. Hilary Lease and Ian Murray from the University of Witwatersrand visited Gobabeb on the 20th June 2014:
Drs. Hilary Lease and Ian Murray of the Wildlife Conservation Physiology research group at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa recently spent several weeks at the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre to study the energy and water expenditures of the wedge-snouted lizard in the nearby dunes under the auspices of the FogLife research program. FogLife is an exciting new collaboration, including Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Pretoria, among others, with the ultimate goal of studying how Namib Desert organisms use fog-water, and what implications global change may have for these organisms. Gobabeb is situated adjacent to several key habitats within the Namib Desert, including the massive dune sea, and provides an ideal setting for carrying out research on lizard physiology and ecology, combining the use of laboratory space close to populations of many desert lizard species, including the wedge-snouted lizard.
Cambridge University Conservation Leadership Student Undertook Professional Placement in Gobabeb 9th June 2014:
Jingjing Chen, Cambridge student enrolled in the MPhil programme of Conservation Leadership, have spent one month with Gobabeb to carry out a professional placement project. With the title “The role of communications in delivering effective conservation in Namibia”, this project is collaboration between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Gobabeb through the station’s Namib Ecological Restoration and Monitoring Unit (NERMU).
During her visit, Jingjing interviewed stakeholders from extractive industry, public services, donor community, educational institutions and conservation organizations. In-house interviews with Gobabeb staff members were also conducted with the purpose to well understand the station’s most outstanding needs and potentials for its future. The expected output of this study will be a communications strategy for Gobabeb, which aims at contributing towards Gobabeb’s key objectives through awareness raising, profile strengthening and fundraising improvement.
Herpetologists of Villanova University visited Gobabeb on the 7th June 2014:
Dr. Aaron Bauer (Villanova University), Dr. William Branch (Port Elizabeth Museum), Ms. Jackie Childers (Villanova University), Dr. Matthew Heinicke (University of Michigan-Dearborn), and Mr. Johan Marais (South African Snakebite Institute) spent June 2014 performing reptile surveys in poorly-sampled regions across Namibia, and took the opportunity to visit Gobabeb from 7 June to 9 June. While at Gobabeb the team encountered a number of reptile species, including the geckos Chondrodactylus laevigatus, C. angulifer, Pachydactylus rangei, and Ptenopus garrulus. However, the reptile fauna of Gobabeb is already well-documented, so survey work was not the main reason for the team coming to Gobabeb. Instead, they came to meet with Gobabeb staff for planning of future meetings in which Gobabeb will be play a major role. Dr. Bauer is overseeing planning for the upcoming Herpetological Association of Africa meeting scheduled to be held at Gobabeb from 19-23 November, and expected to host more than 60 scientists. In addition, Drs. Bauer and Heinicke are recent recipients of a grant from JRS Biodiversity to digitize biodiversity data for Namibian and Angolan reptiles and amphibians. As part of this project, a digitization and mapping training workshop for Namibian and Angolan scientists will be held at Gobabeb in 2015.
Microbial Scientist of University of Pretoria visited Gobabeb in June 2014:
Dr. Frossard, a post-doctoral researcher from the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics at the University of Pretoria is interested in how small microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) will respond to changing water availability in response to climate change. Many climate forecasts predict that the frequency and intensity of rainfall in hot deserts like the Namib are likely to change in coming decades as a result of global climate change. If this happens, it might induce changes to the communities of microbes living in the soil. Understanding how these organisms behave in response to climate change is important to effectively manage arid environments.
The aim of the experiment is to determine the key factors driving the dynamics of soil microbial community structure and function during dry and wet cycles in deserts. Her experiment does this by taking soil from two different sites in the Namib with different water regime histories and watering them in ways that mimic actual and predicted (less frequent and more intense than actual) rainfalls in the Namib. Soil microbial diversity, various functional variables, and the linkages between diversity and function, as well as the resistance (i.e. degree to which a community withstands change in the face of disturbance) and resilience (here the rate at which a microbial community returns to its original composition after being disturbed) of the soil microbial communities are being assessed.
Dr. Tony Cunningham visited Gobabeb on 25th April 2014:
Dr Tony Cunningham, international ethnobotanist, visited the station and presented a lecture to staff entitled, "Landscapes, people & plants: future directions for ethnobotany in linking livelihoods & sustainable resource use".
Travelling with his son and friends, Tony had this to say:
“It was wonderful to be back at Gobabeb after 37 years. Reflecting on the three visits I made to the Namib (the first in 1975 to Gorob, with a student geology society), then in 1976 and 1977 as a volunteer student at Gobabeb, I would like to acknowledge the formative role my time there played in my later professional career, largely due to two reasons. Firstly, that Gobabeb being such an amazing place, with an international community of hardworking scientists and Mary Seely’s leadership at that time. Secondly, due to the mentoring and encouragement from herpetologist Dr Mike Robinson, with whom I published by first paper* in 1978. Being at Gobabeb was a privilege and a time I will never forget. Thank you Gillian for the opportunity to visit Gobabeb again”.
* ROBINSON, M and CUNNINGHAM, A B. 1978. Comparative diet of two Namib desert sand lizards (Lacertidae). Madoqua 11(1): 41-43
University of Pretoria Microbial Ecologists visited Gobabeb on 6th April 2014:
The Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics [CMEG] at the University of Pretoria, under the leadership of Professor Don Cowan, supports a large research program on the microbial ecology of the central Namib Desert. CMEG researchers, with their international collaborators, use the Gobabeb Desert Research and Training Centre (100km inland from Walvis Bay) as a base from which to conduct field studies.
During these annual expeditions, the CMEG research teams focus on different Namib Desert habitats and groups of microorganisms, with the long term aim of acquiring a holistic understanding of this ‘unseen’ fraction of the desert ecology.
CMEG researchers have recently initiated a study on the microbiology of the Welwitschia mirabilis. It is too early to report the findings, but the chances of finding another unique, interesting and potentially useful microbial metagenome is excellent.
Dr. Rick Rohde, Prof. Sian Sullivan and Dr. Mike Hannis visited Gobabeb in March 2014:
In March 2014 Gobabeb was visited three members from a team of UK-based academics beginning a cross-disciplinary and collaborative Arts and Humanities research project in Namibia. They contributed an afternoon of talks for one of Gobabeb's informal Sunday afternoon seminars. Rick Rohde (Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, and Plant Conservation Unit, University of Cape Town) gave a talk on 'Repeat photographs and historical ecology in the Namib'. This was followed by Sian Sullivan and Mike Hannis (both at Bath Spa University, UK) who gave a presentation entitled ‘Offsetting nature? Notes on the development of biodiversity offsetting policy in the UK and beyond.
Rick and Sian first conducted research in Namibia in the early 1990s. This focused on Damara / ≠Nū Khoen cultural landscapes and land-use practices in Kunene, and on assessments of environmental change through vegetation surveys and analysis of repeat landscape photographs. With environmental philosopher Mike Hannis, they are now part of a larger research team that includes ethnomusicologist Angela Impey (School of Oriental and African Studies, London), anthropologist Chris Low (Bath Spa University and !khwa ttu San Cultural and Education Centre, Western Cape) and Namibian film and production company Mamokobo (who in 1994 made the film Living on the Edge about ≠Aonin / Topnaar people living in the Kuiseb river valley). Their current programme of research, entitled Future Pasts, is a cross-disciplinary analysis of different approaches to sustainability in west Namibia, with a focus on perceptions and analysis of environmental change, intangible cultural heritage and cultural landscapes. It is funded until 2018 by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and is affiliated with the National Museum of Namibia.
Rick Rohde presented an example of his historical ecology research undertaken in partnership with Prof MT Hoffman, based on forty-eight repeat photographs of central and southern Namibia first taken in 1876. These form the basis for an analysis of vegetation change and allowed us to address the following key questions: (a) What have been the major patterns of change in grass; shrub and tree cover since 1876 along an aridity gradient (b) How have anthropogenic impacts influenced these changes? (c) Are the trajectories of change consistent in direction and magnitude with the projections derived from climate change studies? Each photo site was surveyed for vegetation species and percentage cover change identifying discrete landform units systematically at each location. Statistical analyses show that there is a significant positive relationship between the % change in tree cover and mean annual rainfall. Increased grass cover and relative stability in shrub cover within the vegetation units is indicative of a landscape that has not become more degraded since 1876. Sites with less than 275 mm MAP remained stable over time. For sites where MAP is > 275 mm, the history of land use appears to have had a direct bearing on processes of bush encroachment. These observations do not lend support to modeled climate change predictions as a result of global warming although the increases in tree cover might be partially the result of CO2fertilisation.
German Film Crew visited Gobabeb on the 14th February 2014:
It´s Germany´s most successful educational program for children: pur+. Every week, presenter & reporter Eric travels around to discover and explain the world for the young viewers, who are between 7 and 13 years old.
The show is broadcasted by Germany´s public television called “Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen" (ZDF) and every episode reach easily over 1Million viewers.
This time, the film team came to stay for 5 days at Gobabeb to do a show about the desert. Director Simone Grabs, Cameraman Raphael Scriba, Sound engineer Bobby Hasheela and presenter Eric Mayer started an experiment. Together with Gobabeb´s research-technician Titus Shuuya, they wanted to find out: Can one survive in the desert for 24 hours without any water, food or equipment?
They discovered not only the desert´s plants, animals and secret water areas, but also the beauty of an ancient ecosystem that has to be preserved. The show will be broadcasted in Germany end of April in ZDF and also in “Kinderkanal” (children channel).
For more information click here
A TBS Film Crew visited Gobabeb on the 31st January 2014:
TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) produces a television programme called ‘World Heritage Sites’ which broadcasts weekly in Japan, introducing different World Heritage Sites of the world to the Japanese viewing public.
While in Namibia filming the Namib Sand Sea World Heritage Site, a film crew from TBS visited Gobabeb where they came to interview Gobabeb’s scientists and to learn about the formation of the desert and the reasons for its inscription as a WHS. They also filmed some of Gobabeb’s monitoring activities, with special focus on the Welwitschia leaf-growth and health monitoring programme.
We would like to thank the Gobabeb staff for their assistance for the time we were filming with them.
BBC Film Crew, visited Gobabeb on 16th January 2014:
Beyond Human is a new presenter led BBC series looking at the world of animal super senses. We came to the stunning Namib desert to film a small mammal called the Golden Mole for the hearing episode. This sand swimmer locates its termite prey through a uniquely developed cochlea. Despite its name it actually spends quite a lot of its night time activity running around on the surface of the sand to save energy. Dipping its head periodically to listen for vibrations of grasses blowing in the wind, as this is where it will most likely find its termite prey.
The Gobabeb research centre provided the perfect base for our trips out into the desert and the crew thoroughly enjoyed its breath taking views and friendly staff. We hope our work will reveal a little more about the Namib desert and the unique evolution of surely one of its most delightful denizens.
A big thanks to all the staff at Gobabeb Research & Training Centre.
Researchers from Grinnell College in Iowa, USA visited Gobabeb on 19th December 2013:
Peter and Kathy Jacobson from Grinnell College in Iowa, USA visited Gobabeb and nearby study sites over a six week period in December 2013 and January 2014. Kathy continued her ongoing survey of black Aspergillus infections of female Welwitschia mirabilis cones throughout the Namibian range of the plant, while Peter’s work focused on assessing the persistence of springs that are so critical to wildlife populations throughout western Namibia. We gave a talk about our research that was well attended by Gobabeb staff, researchers and SDP students and very much enjoyed the engaging question and answer period that followed. We also met with Gillian Maggs-Kolling, Theo Wassenaar, Mary Seely and the current Grinnell Corps fellows (Kathryn Vincent and Robert Logan) to review the successes of the Grinnell Corps program (now in its thirteenth year), and to discuss ways to maintain the strong ties between Grinnell and Gobabeb through mutual staff and student visits and exchanges, future courses, grant writing efforts, and recent developments with the US-based FOG (Friends of Gobabeb). We greatly appreciate the hard work of all Gobabeb staff running this fine research and training facility in the Namib.
Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), visited Gobabeb on 16th November 2013:
Dr Christian Voigt and his PhD student David Lehmann visited Gobabeb during the 16th November 2013, also accompanied by their graduate students. Christian and David’s interests in Namibia relate to understanding how oryx and springbok select their resources and habitats in response to seasonal climatic changes. Ultimately, they want to understand the responses of wildlife species towards habitat desertification, a growing threat to many ecosystems in Africa and worldwide. In the oryx project, they aim to contribute to conservation and management of desert ungulates by supporting local communities in their conservation efforts, by developing management plans for sustainable land use, and by providing new insights into the ecology of two charismatic and economically important wildlife species. The group, who are all attached to the Evolutionary Ecology Research Group of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, paid a courtesy visit to Gobabeb and discussed ideas around potential future collaborative projects involving Hartmann’s mountain zebra.
Researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), visited Gobabeb:
Dr. Johann Engelbrecht from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada and a delegate on the 2013 US Trade Mission to Namibia, paid a visit to the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in the last week of October. Dr. Theo Wassenaar accompanied Dr. Engelbrecht to the Welwitschia Wash and other research facilities, followed by a presentation before the resaerchers and students at Gobabeb.
The goal of Dr. Engelbrecht’s visit to Namibia is to explore avenues of collaboration and capacity building in Namibia, working on issues of environmental concern to that country. The envisaged program will include the exchange of faculty and students from the DRI, University of Nevada Reno, the University of Namibia, Polytechnic of Namibia, and industry. The joint effort is focused on a range of environmental issues, as identified through discussions with the universities in Namibia, Namibia Government, mining, industry, NGOs, and potential funding organizations. The program will provide added skills for educators, government, researchers, and industry of Namibia to take ownership of their environmental issues, and build capacity in higher education and environmental research.
Researchers from University of Pretoria, visited Gobabeb on 4th October 2013:
Clarke Scholtz (University of Pretoria) and Hennie and Rina de Klerk visited Gobabeb from 4th to 7th October 2013 on a photographic mission. On Saturday evening Clarke gave a short talk to the interns and researchers at Gobabeb. Clarke and Hennie managed to get photographs of most of their target species, and appreciated that Titus Shuuya of Gobabeb could take them to the Welwitschia Wash on Sunday to take photos of the insects that are associated with the Welwitschia mirabilis.
For Rina (previously De Vos), it was wonderful to visit Gobabeb again, 25 years after she helped as a volunteer in the library.
Researchers from John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab & Brigham Young University, visited Gobabeb on 8th August 2013:
The striking similarity between the giant linear dunes of the Namib and those found on Saturn's moon, Titan, by the NASA-ESA-ASI Cassini spacecraft, have drawn a group of planetary scientists to Gobabeb. Dr Ralph Lorenz of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab visited with Prof Jani Radebaugh of Brigham Young University and two graduate students and two other colleagues to study the morphology of the dunes, the ages of dune and interdune materials, and to study the dune structure using ground penetrating radar (GPR). By analogy, these studies can help inform how Titan's dunes form and evolve. Click Ralph D.Lorenz & Brigham Young University for more information
Students from Texas A&M University, USA, visited Gobabeb on 19th July 2013:
A visiting group of five bachelor students and two masters students from Texas A&M University in the United States joined the station for four days to document the diverse array of plants, animals, and other life at the station. They are supplying station with photographs that will be used around the station on informative posters, advertisements, and more. They will be in Namibia for three weeks traveling between Gobabeb, Swakopmund, the Skeleton Coast, Etosha, Windhoek and more. This is the second year Texas A&M has brought students to Gobabeb and we look forward to their return next year. More information can be found here
Professor Trip Lamb, East Carolina University, USA, visited Gobabeb on 5th June 2013:
Endemism and species richness are high among Namib darkling beetles, particularly for members of the tribe Adesmiini. Trip is interested in determining whether the Namib served as the tribe’s center of origin and to what degree it has promoted speciation. To address these components of adesmiine evolution, he will be constructing molecular phylogenies for each genus using genomics-scale data acquired through next generation sequencing. He has come to Gobabeb because it provides the perfect location for initiating their genomics project. Most of the tribe’s eleven genera occur here, and he thinks that specimens can be maintained in the well-kept facilities for live export. And of course, he feels that it is apt to work on darkling beetles at Gobabeb where all the major names in darkling beetle taxonomy have figured prominently in the Centre’s rich history of research.