The Succulent Karoo Research Station

 

The Succulent Karoo Research Station (registered non-profit organisation) at Goegap Nature Reserve aims to increase our knowledge about the ecology of the Hardeveld of Namaqualand with special reference to the important role of small mammals. We study behavioral and physiological flexibility as adaptations to survive in an extreme environment. Our scientific merit is represented in publications in high ranking international scientific journals. The Research Station offers a convenient and pleasant workplace for scientists from all over the world in an unique environment. The Research station aims to promote Goegap Nature Reserve and Namaqualand as a tourist destination.

The research station in 2004 (picture C. Keller)

The research station was continously upgraded (inserts) since 2001, by installling solar power and putting up additonal buildings. We also got a new car. Here picture from 2011, since then more solar panels were built up, stronger battery banks, and two additional small buildings.

Research station in 2012: many solar panels to produce the needed power.

The beginning in 2002

The striped mouse project in Goegap started in 2001 and sinec 2002 we can use the old farmhouse of the nature reserve as research station. We can use the house for free and the reserve will not contribute anything to its maintenance. Instead, we have to cover all arisng costs. In addition, we spent a lot of money on its maintenance and development. So while we can use the research station for free, it costs us more per month than a house with big garden and swimming pool would cost us in town.

But of course there are immense advantages of being able to use the research station in Goegap. Most importantly, it is directly at the field site. This saved us a lot of time and money, as I we not have to drive 30km a day. And it is also very convenient. The field site is diretcly in front of the house and it only takes a few minutes from the field to the station.

Nowadays we start working in the field at 6 in the morning and stop at 8 at night. This is only possible because in the meantime we can quickly go to the research station and have a break.

The water supply for the research station is from a borehole (ground water) a few hundred meters away from the house. Until 2011, we used an old and noisy diesel water pump to fill up the water tanks at the house once or twice a week. In 2011 it was replaced by a nice solar pump. We have one big tanks at the house, for five thousand liters. Another two tanks solely for the bathroom are on top of the hill behind the research station.
Living at the research station means that you have to do without several luxuries that are part of normal life in a city. But we have some luxuries you will never find in a city: The silence and peace of the nature around us, observing the exciting social life of free ranging animals, living in an area surrounded by astonishing scenery, with a clear night sky sparkling with stars like nowhere else in the world. I am working here in my office, but I have only to go a few steps to get into the natural environment of my study species. Actually, I do not even have to do this. Just in front of my window, in a little shack for the solar energy system, is a striped mouse group living, and I can observe their social life from my desk. The Acacia trees behind are used as nesting sites by mouse birds. And the bird bath in front of my window is visited by several species each day. We might live in the wilderness – but we enjoy it!

New Developments at the Research Station 2006

The Research Station improved from year to year. Starting from an old farm house that was very much in need of renovation and which lacked most infrastructures such as furniture, we rennovated and improved the house every year a little bit. In 2006, the improvements were much more than a little bit, as funds from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University if Zurich and funding from different foundations made it possible to invest much more than in the previous years:

New Ceilings: In one room and in the student’s kitchen there was the real risk that the ceiling was falling on our heads. So it was time to replace these ceilings and Brigitte took over that difficult task in February 2006 with the help of some casual workers. She also used the opportunity to install a ceiling for the first time in the part of the house where she and I were staying. We use a corridor of about 2 by 8 meters that was added to the house approx. 30 years ago as a garage for the farm vehicles, where it was getting much colder in winter and much hotter in summar than in the student`s area. This difference still exists, but is now less pronounced.

New Furniture: All the years the students had complained about the beds. It was true, that the self made beds from Goegap were not comfortable at all, as they did not meet standards. It was better to place the foam mattresses onto the floor, but also these mattresses were getting old. But now the research station has four new nice beds for students. Other new furniture includes a cup-board for the students, a shelf for the student’s kitchen and two book shelves .  

Solar System: now we have power in every room! So far we nearly had no power at the research station. Ok, we had a small solar system that (normally) provided enough power for the 12V lights. But we had to run our computers with large car batteries. These had to be charged at the office in of Goegap. When carrying them around they were not only very heavy, but often leaked some battery acid creating fashions holes in our clothes. And often there was no power at all to work. In 2008 we installed four large solar panels in front of the house and a good 1000 W inverter.

New Lamps: Our small solar system only allowed 12V lamps, which are sometimes not very strong, especially when the wire has to go a long distance or the room is large. Thus, though we had a light in the bathroom, which I installed in 2004, it was still very dark at night. Since 2006 we have two strong lights with energy saving bulbs that are powered by the 220V system and which make the bathroom one of the brightest rooms. However, the brightest room is now the small student’s room, which was previously the darkest. This room now also has a strong 220V light.

New Computers: Since 2006 we have two laptops fort the research station. One of them is based at the station for all field data. The other one is used also for research but also by the students to watch DVDs and for their Emails.

Wendy-House for Animal Keeping: Wendy House is the South African English name for a wooden house used in the garden. In 2006 I bought one measuring 3x6m in Cape Town. It was not only expensive, but also stressful to have it transported to Goegap. At first, the transport company forgot the roof, windows and door. Once everything had finally arrived, it proved to be more work to get it standing than expected, but it took just over one day to get it done. The Wendy House now offers accommodation to our captive colony of striped mice.Research Station Manager appointed: The most important change since 2006 is that the Research Station now has a manager who is appointed for 12 months and stays permanently at the Research Station during this period. The Research Station Manager is somebody with a MSC in Biology or similar, who wants to stay one yearor longer in Namaqualand. The Research Station refunds the costs of the flight to South Africa, offers free accommodation and covers the living expenses with a small grant of R 2000/month (250 Euro) in 2006, which increased to R7500/month in 2012. The work of the Research Station Manager is hard and demanding: 1. Maintenance and repairs of the Research Station; 2. managing the finances (book keeping); 3. management of the captive colony of mice; 4. keeping track of all mice groups, i.e. conducting field work such as trapping, radio-tracking and behavioral observations; 5. working in and supervising field assistants.

 New Developments at the Research Station 2008

In 2008 we finally got a new research station car, after many years of hard work to try to funding for this. A brand new Mahindra Bolero 2X4 double cab was chosen. It has a high vehicle clearance that makes it easy to drive the roads in the reserve. Its large trunk is essential for transporting gas bottles for the research station, field equipments and supplies, and of course for our weekly shopping in Springbok.

Then, as a response to the high population density at the Research Station, a new 6 x 3 meters Wendy house was built for studdents accomodation. In addition, a 2 x 2 meters Wendy house was erected to be used as an extra bathroom in order to ease off the congestion in the existing toilet.

A higher number of people staying at the Research station also meant an increased demand on the electrical power and surely an upgrade to the existing power system was needed.  So we installed additional solar panels and a wind turbine. Add to this, we installed an additonal 3000 W inverter.

Further developments 2009-2012

In the next years, all gas fridges were replaced by electrical firdges. We installed someadditional power panels. Also, a washing machine was bought that is only allowed to be used duirng periods of excess solar energy, a point most new students cannot understand. We also bought additonalö furniture, including shelves for storage in the corridor. 

Pictures of inside the research station in 2012. Top: student kitchen. Middle: research room. Bottom: corridor to students room and the small students room.

Developments in 2013

In 2013, we got permission to build permanent structures at the research station. While the wendy houses helped a lot to deal with our increased demand of space, they easily heated up in summer and got very cold in winter. So decided buildings from stone would be better. In March 2013 we built a 3x6m research room to be able to conduct expriments in a room without any disturbance by noise from neigbouring rooms. And we built a small flat 7x6m with 2 rooms and a kitchen as accomodation for the research station manager. In December 2013 a second research room of 3x6m was built. One research room now houses the respirometry laboratory, the second one is used for behavioral testing.

 

The flat for the research station manager, built in 2013.

 

 


The backside of the research station: Place to do the washing and to have a BBQ.

The old diesel water pump was replaced by a solar pump in 2011.

Enjoying the stars of the southern hemisphere at the research station without any artifical lightsdisturbing it. Here you see the milky way with its millions of stars.

Ivana paints the large student’s sleeping room.

The freshly painted student’s room has now three new and nice beds. On the right hand side, outside the picture, there are two more cup-boards.

The firstsolar panels provide the research station with power in 2006.

Building up the Wendy House was not so easy. We put some insulation under the roof to avoid it getting too hot in summer.The mice are doing very well in the Wendy House.

In 2008 we got the Mahindra Bolero is an Indian car. It offers lots of space and is very robust, and ideal for what we need it for!

 

The Wendy house erected in 2007 and some solar panels.

 

The two new Wendy houses bulit up in 2008. The small one priveds an additional toilet and shower.

    

The wind turbine gets erected. It can produce up to 9 A (216W) and this 24h a day!

Our fuses and left the old Inverter that can handle 1000W and right the new inverter that can produce even 3000W. Power in the kitchen area comes from the new inverter such that we can use electrical fridges there.

Front view of the research station. From left to right: Mahindra, the research station car, Ed`s private car, the main house, Ed`s and Ivana’s Wendy house, the green 5000l water tank for the kitchen, the small Wendy house with bathroom and the new Wendy house.

 

Back view of the research station. From left to right: the new Wendy house, the wind turbine, the green 5000l water tank for the kitchen, the main house, the old Wendy house where the mouse colony is kept.

The two research rooms, which were built in 2013, for the respirometry laboratory and for behavioral phenotyping.