Species diversity, habitat utilization and blood parasites of amphibians in and around Ndumo Game Reserve
Netherlands, Edward Charles
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Ndumo Game Reserve is the only officially protected area within the Phongolo Floodplain; an area in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal known to boast a rich diversity of amphibians, thus becoming one of the focal areas for this study. The study’s aim was to monitor and record amphibian diversity, as well as associated blood parasite biodiversity. For the purpose of monitoring, a number of active and passive techniques were employed. Habitat preferences for the expected species were divided into five types, namely endorheic, lacustrine, palustrine, riverine and terrestrial. Endorheic habitats were found to harbour the highest diversity (70%) of frog species. A permanent song meter was used to passively record calling activity of frog species associated with endorheic systems. This call data indicated peak breeding season, preferred calling times and intensities of the different species. Historical records from the same area were used as a basis to which this study’s data were compared. In the case of the polychromatic Argus Reed Frog Hyperolius argus Peters, 1854, questions were raised concerning the major colour changes during development of the apparent sub-adult to adult life stages, an observation which was has caused some confusion as to whether these forms represented a single species or multiple cryptic species. These issues were clarified using techniques such as DNA extraction and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Furthermore, a blood parasite survey was conducted. Thin blood smears for morphometrics and whole blood for molecular work, were collected from 29 species and 436 individual frogs. For the majority of the recorded parasites, techniques such as light microscopy were utilized for the morphological description and classification of these parasites. Among the recorded frog blood parasites observed, 20% of the frog specimens were infected with at least one blood parasite group. Hepatozoon and Trypanosoma species accounted for most of the infections; the former demonstrated significant differences in intensity of infection across species, families and habitat types (P = 0.028; P = 0.006; P = 0.007 respectively). Methods, such as transmission electron microscopy, examining the ultrastructure, as well as parasite DNA extraction and 18S rDNA gene sequences for the molecular and phylogenetic characterization, were reserved for Hepatozoon species infecting common toad species (Amietophrynus). Parasite stages observed were measured and compared to each other, as well as to other described African bufonid haemogregarines. Resulting sequences were compared with each other and to comparative haemogregarine sequences selected from GenBank. In the current study a number of important aspects with regards to monitoring and assessment of amphibians in their natural environment were explored, including looking at and determining diversity and prevalence of blood parasites. Furthermore, important data on gaining a better understanding of amphibians and their behavioural activities were also gathered, which should be ABSTRACT Abstract iv able to assist in conservation actions to effectively protect South African anurans and their required habitat types.