Safari Ecology

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Broadening the understanding of ecology in East African habitats, mainly savannahs

Colin Beale
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  • July 9, 2013
  • 10:14 AM

What is the influence of climate change on Tanzanian protected areas?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Pangani Longclaw Macronyx aurantiigula is perhaps the best example of a species extending west, having colonised Serengeti recently. It's been a long time since I posted anything here - sorry! I have another common birds post in progress, but just keep failing to finish it off. In the mean time I thought I'd talk about one of my own papers that came out a few weeks ago that explores how Tanzanian bird distributions are changing (sorry, it's pay to view, but if you want a copy email me and I'll ........ Read more »

  • May 1, 2013
  • 04:43 PM

Indian house crows and invasive aliens

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Indian House Crow, not the prettiest... Thanks to Dick Daniels There are very few birds I don't like to see, but today's common bird is an exception - the Indian House Crow, Corvus splendens. Actually, that's probably slightly untrue, as I have been to India and I was perfectly happy to see the species there. In East Africa, however, this is not a species I'm ever happy to see. Not because there aren't interesting things to say about it, of course, but because it really belongs in India and seem........ Read more »

Duncan, R., Cassey, P., & Blackburn, T. (2009) Do climate envelope models transfer? A manipulative test using dung beetle introductions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1661), 1449-1457. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1801  

  • April 10, 2013
  • 05:25 PM

Common birds: Rattling cisticola and why birds hold territories?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Rattling Cisticola, near Arusha, March 2011. Something of a birder's bird? Returning to my recent theme of common birds, what could be more suitable as the rains begin than a look a Cisticola chiniana? Whilst small, streaked and brown might make this something of a 'birder's bird', I'm happy to think there's plenty to interest everyone in this species too.First the identification. Let's be honest, Cisticolas can be something of a challenge to identify! It doesn't help that there are seven pages ........ Read more »

  • April 3, 2013
  • 05:25 PM

How to protect lions?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Lions: just big kitties really! There have been a couple of lion stories in the news in the last week or two, and enough interest in them that I felt compelled to write something. First there was a paper by Craig Packer and many coauthors about lion populations in Africa, their current declines, and the possible role of fencing in protecting them. Then, shortly after, there was a letter in the New York Times by Tanzania's own Director of Wildlife, asking the US government not to list the lion as........ Read more »

Packer, C., Loveridge, A., Canney, S., Caro, T., Garnett, S., Pfeifer, M., Zander, K., Swanson, A., MacNulty, D., Balme, G.... (2013) Conserving large carnivores: dollars and fence. Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12091  

PACKER, C., BRINK, H., KISSUI, B., MALITI, H., KUSHNIR, H., & CARO, T. (2011) Effects of Trophy Hunting on Lion and Leopard Populations in Tanzania. Conservation Biology, 25(1), 142-153. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01576.x  

  • March 14, 2013
  • 07:39 PM

Common birds: Red-billed Quelea, commonest bird in the world?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

1000s of quelea at a dam on Manyara RanchI've been struggling to think of the next common bird to do something interesting with, until the obvious solution came to me, possibly the world's most abundant bird, the red-billed quelea.So, first the identification. The most obvious thing about red-billed queleas are, as the name suggests, a large red beak! Apart from that feature, females and non-breeding males are rather nondescript, small sparrow-like birds. Breeding males are rather brighter, with........ Read more »

Bayer R.D. (1982) how important are bird colonies as information centres?. The Auk, 99(1), 31-40. info:/

  • January 31, 2013
  • 04:19 PM

Common Birds: the case of the Baglafecht Weaver and missing forests

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Male Baglafecht Weaver, Mt Kilimanjaro  If you live on or near an East African mountain, you're very likely to have Baglafecht Weavers in your garden. Like most of the other true weavers, they're a basic black and yellow colour. The first thing to look at in weavers is usually the colour of the eyes and legs: in Baglafecht weavers you'll always see a yellow eye (easy to see against the surrounding black feathers) and pink legs. Males and females differ slightly: males in the population in n........ Read more »

  • January 23, 2013
  • 04:13 PM

Common birds: Ring-necked Dove

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove) in Tarangire, photo from here Two more challenges have been set since the last one, and I'm hoping to rise to each! The first was for the African Collared Dove, however that species (Streptopelia roseogrisea) from the drier north of Africa in the Sahel and in the Middle East is not found in Eastern or Southern Africa and I suspect request was for a Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola which is indeed one of the commonest birds to be seen in the bush across ........ Read more »

  • January 6, 2013
  • 04:39 PM

Common Bulbul and frugivorous birds

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Common Bulbul nesting in ArushaThanks to doubtful comments from a colleague, next up in the common bird series is going to be the Common Bulbul. These birds are probably the most widespread birds in Tanzania and should be a familiar sight to everyone, with their dark blackish heads, brown back and tail, and dirty white underparts with yellow under the tail. They're typical garden birds, and often ignored. However, it is often the common birds that we know most about, because they are so eas........ Read more »

  • September 2, 2012
  • 03:09 PM

Cycads and more botanical revolutions I've missed...

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Lake Natron Cycad, near Loliondo. Cycads look ratherpalm-like, but are not true flowing plants at all.Back in April I headed to Loliondo for a few days with a bunch of guides from Thompson Safaris. Along the long and bumpy route I was really pleased to spot some Cycads and jumped out to take a few photos. Spotted in action, I was forced to explain why I was taking pictures of some random tree. My answer at the time was based mainly on the evolutionary history of plants that I'd been taught at sc........ Read more »

M.J.M. Christenhusz, J.L. Reveal, A. Farjon, M.F. Gardner, R.R. Mill . (2011) A new classification and linear sequence of extant gymnosperms. Phylotaxa, 55-70. info:other/

  • August 7, 2012
  • 06:04 AM

Do fires stop the Serengeti migration?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Dr Kate Parr lighting a controlled fire in the Serengeti Ecosystem There's been a bit in the East African press recently claiming that Tanzania has been deliberately setting fires in the Serengeti NP to block the migration. The Tanzanian National Park Authority (TANAPA) have, of course, denied this. Reading the articles and press releases there's obviously both some serious ignorance and some seriously bad journalism going on here, and I thought it might be useful to share a few of my observatio........ Read more »

Shombe N. Hassan, Graciela M. Rusch, Håkan Hytteborn, Christina Skarpe, & Idris Kikula. (2008) Effects of fire on sward structure and grazing in western Serengeti, Tanzania. African Journal of Ecology, 46(2), 174-185. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2028.2007.00831.x  

  • June 14, 2012
  • 09:51 AM

East African Butterfly families and corrupt, singing caterpillars

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Citrus Swallowtail, Papilio demodocus, is very common in TanzaniaWe're rarely short of butterflies in Tanzania, but they're a sadly overlooked group. Except, perhaps, when they're swarming by the million as earlier this year most people will, at best, only notice a few in passing. For a hugely diverse group (there are over 18,000 described species), they fall into a relatively small number of readily recognisable families. Unfortunately, all the nice identification books are out of print (and wi........ Read more »

Heikkila, M., Kaila, L., Mutanen, M., Pena, C., & Wahlberg, N. (2011) Cretaceous origin and repeated tertiary diversification of the redefined butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1093-1099. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1430  

  • June 4, 2012
  • 02:07 PM

More on management of protected areas: the human dimensions.

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Public relations are a huge part of conservation workIn the previous post I described two of the ten lessons that we, a bunch of conservation managers and researchers from eastern and southern Africa identified at a workshop in Serengeti. I started with the big lessons on making sure you start with boundaries that make ecological sense - and what can happen particularly to migrations if that's not done. There's more to learn on that score too, but I'll skip to one of the most important lessons w........ Read more »

  • June 2, 2012
  • 03:18 PM

On managing protected areas...

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Spot the scientists! Prizes for anyone who can name at least 4... In  a very rare burst of finishing things of, I've managed to submit two papers this week (wow!). One is on climate impacts and I'll blog about it in time, the other is something I've been working on for a some time that reports the deliberations from a workshop that I was invited to 18 months ago now, at Sasakwa Lodge in the Grumeti Game Reserve. This was a fascinating experience, and not only because it's the only way the l........ Read more »

  • May 31, 2012
  • 03:33 PM

Why do scorpions fluoresce and other such trivia...

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Scorpions - everyone's favourite! I have to admit that I find scorpions a bit creepy. Not only do they have too many legs to begin with, but some of them seem to accelerate from stationary to far too fast in no time at all. And, of course, some of them (a tiny minority, it's true) can be really rather nasty when they're pushed to it. However, despite the slight wariness they inspire in me, I do find them absolutely fascinating creatures. One of the big things that puzzled me about them was their........ Read more »

Gaffin, D., Bumm, L., Taylor, M., Popokina, N., & Mann, S. (2012) Scorpion fluorescence and reaction to light. Animal Behaviour, 83(2), 429-436. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.11.014  

  • April 3, 2012
  • 03:34 PM

African Vulture Declines

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

I saw this hooded vulture in Tarangire this weekend, so they are still around!I've spent a bit of time over the last few days analysing some of the data from the Tanzania Bird Atlas project on vulture declines in advance of a workshop happening soon in the Maasai Mara. The Asian vulture decline is quite possibly the fastest decline in any bird species ever recorded, with more than 95% of the Indian population of Oriental White-backed Vultures dying between 1988 and 1999, from one of the commones........ Read more »

  • March 31, 2012
  • 09:54 AM

Revising climate impacts on African vertebrates

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on climate change and African vertebrates. As I usually do, and especially in this case as Raquel had pointed the paper out to me, I let her know that I'd written something and asked her opinion. After quite a few emails back and forth we confirmed that I'd misunderstood a figure in the paper that I'd thought was the crux of the matter, but it turns out to have been not as useful at all.In light of these discussions, Raquel and colleagues have now produced an adde........ Read more »

  • March 28, 2012
  • 01:17 PM

On cattle in African protected areas

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Typical pastoralist scene near Lake Eyasi Talking about blog topics the other day, a friend asked me about the impact of goats and cattle on wildlife. And then over here someone else started a similar discussion on cattle, which collected a wealth of different ideas, so I thought it would be a good idea to collate all this information for a different audience over here. Increasingly, discussions about cattle come up when people are visiting areas that aren't National Parks - here in Tanzania man........ Read more »

  • March 26, 2012
  • 06:33 AM

Why do savanna trees have flat tops?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Umbrella Thorn, Serengeti: An icon of the savanna? From sunsets behind a silhouetted acacia (properly Vachellia), to photos of rolling grasslands studded with isolated trees, a savanna landscape is immediately identifiable thanks to the flat-topped tree. But why is this? Why do so many Vachellia and other savanna trees have such a distinctive structure that they have become a virtual icon of the African savanna?It's an interesting question that was given some answers in a nice paper by Sally Arc........ Read more »

  • March 22, 2012
  • 01:50 AM

Why is snake venom so toxic?

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Puff-adders probably cause more human snake-bites than any otherAfrican snake,but are rarely fatal. This is a juvenile, but don't think it's harmless. After discovering all the amazing things about pedarin and the 'Nairobi Eye' last week, it set me thinking again about why so much wildlife is so incredibly toxic. Think about it - a little beetle small enough to crawl over you without you noticing at all, is more than toxic enough to kill a grown man - indeed, several. A snake like a black mamba........ Read more »

  • March 19, 2012
  • 02:04 PM

Distribution of Ethiopian Bush-crow and the nature of explanations

by Colin Beale in Safari Ecology

Yesterday I was sent a link to a press release from the excellent BirdLife International (read it here). It's talking about some research by an international team to try and explain the remarkably restricted range of the Ethiopian Bush-crow (cute picture here, since I've never actually been there to take my own), and in it, Paul Donald the lead author makes some interesting comments:“The mystery surrounding this bird and its odd behaviour has stumped scientists for decades – many have looked........ Read more »

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