Welcome to the Home Page of the
Succulent Karoo Research Station
in Goegap Nature Reserve, South Africa
Information for field assistants
Our aim is to understand the evolution of behavioral and physiological mechanisms that allow animals to respond adaptively to their changing natural environment. This will help us to understand how animals can respond to climate change. We are especially interested in phenotypic flexibility. We use methods from ecology, behavioral ecology, physiology and evolutinary biology to understand how ultimate factors integrate with proximate mechanisms.
Our work has generated four major findings that are of importance to further develop concepts and theory
1. The first good empirical data from long-term studies and from field experiments to show that reproductive competition is one of the main reasons for solitary-living (Schradin et al, 2010; Schoepf & Schradin, 2012).
2. We developed the concept of the single strategy from our results that the fitness consequences of alternative reproductive tactics can differ between generations, depending on the generation specific ecological conditions (Schradin & Lindholm, 2011).
3. The concept of social flexibility was developed, which is a form of reversible phenotypic plasticity where the social system of an entire population can change facultatively as a function of individuals of both sexes changing their social tactics depending on ecological conditions (Schradin et al., 2012).
4. First eco-physiological studies demonstrating that individuals change their endocrine patterns when changing reproductive tactics (Schradin & Yuen, 2011), and that hormonal differences between tactics are seasonally dependent (Schradin, 2008).
The Succulent Karoo Research Station
The Succulent Karoo Research Station is situated in the Goegap Nature Reserve, Namaqualand (Northern Cape), South Africa, 20kms away from Springbok. The research station consists of an old farm house and can accommodate up to 11 researchers and students.
The research station is a registered South African non-profit organisation working in its own right. It works in cooperation with the University of Zurich (Switzerland). the CNRS in France and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (South Africa). Researchers from all over the world use this facility.
The Succulent Karoo Research Station was established in 2001 by Dr. Carsten Schradin. Since then, field studies on the socio-ecology. eco-physiology and evolution of small mammals have been conducted. The long term study on striped mice is of special importance, as worldwide less than 25 long term studies on mammals are conducted.
The Succulent Karoo Research Station also conducts studies on the ecology and biodiversity of Namaqualand, leading to important results for conservation.
The Striped Mouse
Our main study is about the eco-physiology and socio-ecology of the striped mouse. In Goegap, this species exhibits a highly complex social structure. Striped mice live in groups that share one nest and territory. Groups consist of up to four breeding females, which are normally sisters and raise their young together. Each group also has a male that participates in infant care. The offspring stay at home even after reaching adulthood. Thus, adult sons and daughters stay with their parents until the next breeding season. Groups can consist of up to 30 adult mice.
However, the striped mouse is very flexible and can adapt its social system to changes in its environment. In years with very low food abundance they become solitary. When food supply increases, family groups form again.
The striped mouse is active during the day. As the habitat in Goegap is very open, we can observe them directly in the field. Mice are well habituated to the presence of observers. One of the first things a young mouse sees when leaving the nest for the first time is a student observing the nest.
This is worldwide the only study where a mouse species is directly observed in its natural habitat!
Biodiversity and Conservation
Namaqualand is part of the Succulent Karoo, a biodiversity hotspot. Its richness in species is as high as in a tropical rainforest. More than 2000 plant species occur only in the Succulent Karoo and nowhere else. Small mammals play an important role in this ecosystem. The Succulent Karoo Research Station conducts research on the interactions between small mammals and plant biodiversity. The results are important for nature conservation.