Another Successful Portland, Oregon Toyota Outreach

A successful Toyota Enviro Outreach has come to an end.  Yet again it was amazing to witness how scientists from different backgrounds and experiences can work as a group to achieve a common goal. The spirit and passion was fantastic. This year, we would like to thank for handing out the volunteer name tags ids the scientific team consisted of specialists in the field of insects, plants, gastropods, fungi, and fish identification and was led by the University of Johannesburg. The team traveled to iSimangaliso Wetland Park to collect plant and animal specimens for DNA barcoding. A total of more than 1020 species representing approximately 2806 individuals were collected. Once the barcode for these samples is produced they will be uploaded onto the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD), an online informatics platform where it will become part of a growing reference library of DNA barcodes for South African plants and animals that will be freely available for use by the broader scientific and amateur naturalist communities.

The African Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Johannesburg and our partners from the International Barcode of Life project are extremely grateful to Toyota SA providing a fleet of vehicles and the unique opportunity through the Toyota Enviro Outreach to collect samples for DNA barcoding. Special thanks must go to Gerhard and Elmarie Groenewald and their team from Klipbokkop Nature Reserve near Worchester; without the logistic support and constant encouragement we would never have achieved our goals. We are also grateful to the authorities at iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife that assist us with the colleting permits. Finally we wish to thank all our other sponsors (4X4 Mega World, Camp World, National Luna, Good Year, Total) for their support and commitment to the DNA barcoding project.

Some final conclusions from the various disciplines:

The Fish & Mollusk Team: Herman and Richard’s comments
Although Maphelane hasn’t been as productive with respect to the marine gastropods, it has been very successful with respect to fish and terrestrial snails. We caught 13 species of fish including the poisonous Evil-eye Puffer Fish. We have also got 7 species of crustacean and 4 species of terrestrial snails. One of the snail species is the Tail Wagging Snail of which the biology is little known. It is possible that tail wagging is part of the courtship ritual.

This brings our total to 371 samples from around 75 species from this part of the trip alone.

The plant Team: Olivier & Michelle
The last ten days spent in Kwazulu-Natal at both Kosi Bay and Maphelane permitted us to visit a broad range of ecosystems such as mangroves, swamps, and sand forests. Although rain came a bit late we were able to complete numerous collections of plants. Our main focus was to complete our sampling for the TreeBOL Africa project. We also focused on invasive species, which forms part of a collaborative project between the Early Detection and Rapid Response Program of the Working for Water Program and South African National Biodiversity Institute and the African Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Johannesburg. All our collections will be deposited both at the National herbarium in Durban and at the University of Johannesburg. The DNA collection will be incorporated in the UJ-ACDB DNA bank and made available on request for scientific purposes (

Our sampling after 10 days reached a total of 190 collections, representing 59 families and we have so far positively identified 93 species including 45 new taxa for the DNA Bank at the ACDB.

The highlight of our collection were: Acacia kosiensis (Sweet Thorn), Barringtonia racemosa (Powder-puff Tree), Voaconga thouarsii (Wild frangiupani), Diospyros inhacahensis (Coast Jackal-berry), Drypetes gerrardii (Forest Ironplum), Inhambanella henriquesii (Milkpear), Parinari capensis subsp. Incohata  (Sand Mobola Plum), Robsonodendon eucleiforme (False Silki-bark), Turraea floribunda (Honeysuckle-tree), and Vangueria randii (Coast Wild-medlar).

Ants: Brigitte
The Toyota Enviro Outreach was a fantastic adventure for me. I enjoyed exploring the unique environments a lot. This trip has added many species to the ant collection. In total I found approximately 25 genera and 55 species in Kosi Bay and Maphelane. However some of these species I previously barcoded from other places and of some I only found one or two nests. Thus the total number of samples contributed by this trip is approximately 160. The number may still increase when I process the samples in the lab as some ant species look too similar to be distinguished in the field and I may thus have more species collected than I am currently aware of.

Arachnids: Robin
The spider diversity of Kosi Bay and Maphelane has been great to sample. The diversity of both areas has an approximate total of 50 families and 100 species. The exact number for the spiders will only be known once specimens have been sorted at the lab. Other orders of arachnid samples included scorpions, red romans and pseudo-scorpions. All of these are great finds since they will help to give an indication of the total arachnid diversity of both areas. A total number of 400 samples representing 100 different species were collected during the trip.

The Toyota trip has been a great experience for me personally. Not only was it possible for me to visit a part of the country I haven’t been too before. I have been able to form part of this unique barcoding project. Whilst I have only concentrated on arachnids I feel I have helped in my own way to fulfill the barcoding aim – to make every species count.

Vincent’s conclusions
Here we go; it’s already the last day of the trip! For the past few years, I have been heavily involved in DNA barcoding – editing scientific papers on this topic and having launched, together with Michelle van der Bank’s team, the plant DNA barcodes. Thus, I was particularly interested to see what would be the outcomes of this sort of expedition.

One way of measuring the success of this trip is to count the number of specimens that have been collected – and I understand that the organisers are happy with the collecting figures. For me, success is also a lot about training and research outputs. For example, I have thoroughly enjoyed my discussions with students, Bezeng and Barnabas, making plans towards analysing their data or visiting my lab in London. Discussions with the plant team were particularly productive, for example debating the use of DNA barcodes to test recent ecological theories. Reading through Herman’s manuscript and discussing with him how COI can help delineate species of marine snails was great too. Indeed, DNA barcoding has split the science community, and its detractors will be watching out whether or not solid scientific publications are being produced through DNA barcoding – this trip was particularly hopeful in this regard.

The partnership between the car industry and scientists was another intriguing side of this trip. It’s undoubtedly a great mutual benefit to Toyota, the other sponsors and us that this 2-week trip was funded. However, longer-lasting investments – maybe such as the donation of a second-hand vehicle – would make a much bigger difference to the teams: as Michelle explains, car rental is the most expensive item for her work. I am of course very thankful to all sponsors for financing this trip, and I am equally thankful to the support team here who has looked after us so well. I have met so many wonderful people during the trip.

Finally, my thoughts must also go to this bull, who would have not expected his testicles to be the target of a French scientist – but what wouldn’t I do to collect my favourite ticks…

UJ student group: Barnabas Daru (hello!!! – Hi!!)
The 2011 Toyota Enviro Outreach was a great experience for me. It accord me an opportunity to work in one of Africa’s six biodiversity hotspot areas, the Maputaland where I had first-hand experience working closely with a team of multi-disciplinary biologists (botanists, entomologists, zoologists, ecologists, and conservation biologists) for a common cause – to DNA barcode biodiversity.
One of the highlights of this Outreach for me, apart from the wonderful scenes in the thick tropical forests, was the visit to the primary school (Trelfall at Kosi Bay) where we taught the learners the importance of biodiversity to the environment including the tree-song: “My tree, my tree, my beautiful tree…”, a song which I believe will linger in the community for years to come.
This Outreach has been a truly rewarding experience for me, the memories which will be saved close to my heart. Thanks to the leaders, organisers and sponsors.

Insects: Christiaan
This was one amazing experience!! Thanks to Gerhard and his team and Toyota for helping me to contribute to the Barcode of Life Project. At Kosi-Bay we collected about 300 species, and added another 450 at Maphelane. This is not even close to the total potential that occurs in these areas, which means we will have to return to continue collecting samples in these beautiful areas.

From the organisers: Elmarie
I wish to thank all the participants of this year’s Outreach. A project of this magnitude can only succeed with a group of dedicated and enthusiastic scientists, like yourselves. Michelle has led this group well, and with her humble approach, created the space for all to excel.

Blog facilitator: Millene
It was a pleasure to keep everyone following this group’s progress, updated. With contributions, photographs and help from all, the quality of communication remained tops. Till next time…