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Wildlife Conservation Physiology lab

Wildlife Conservation Physiology (WCP) is an area of research within the Brain Function Research Group. Our research focuses on the ecophysiology and thermoregulation of African, Australian and Arabian mammals, as well as the physiological responses of wild mammals to global climate change and game capture procedures.

More information is available on the website.

Current research:

  • Body temperature and thermoregulation of African, Australian and Arabian mammals
  • Thermoregulation of small, arid-dwelling mammals
  • Effects of habitat transformation on the physiology of animals
  • The mechanisms involved in the control of selective brain cooling during heat stress and dehydration
  • Effects of human interference on selective brain cooling in ungulates
  • Thermal stress of capture
  • Cooling of hyperthermic animals during capture
  • Prevention of respiratory depression in opioid-immobilized animals

Staff: 
Prof Andrea Fuller

Dr Robyn Hetem

Mrs Arista Botha

Dr Edward Snelling

Honorary staff 

Prof Duncan Mitchell 

Dr Leith Meyer, University of Pretoria

Dr Shane Maloney, University of Western Australia

Prof Louise Barrett, University of Leithbridge, Canada

Dr Richard McFarland, UK

Dr Ian Murray, Arizona

 

Our team, which includes physiologists, veterinarians, zoologists, ecologists and game management personnel, works together to answer some of the vital questions that are posed by conservationists and wildlife managers interested in the survival of African mammals. Our research has two main aims, firstly to investigate the physiological and behavioural responses of free-living terrestrial mammals to environmental stressors, and secondly to investigate the effect of game management procedures on stress responses and resultant morbidity and mortality of mammals.

 

Cheetah do not abandon hunts because they overheat 

Biology Letters 9: 20130472, 2013

Research Projects Available

Physiology of free-living terrestrial mammals

The purpose of the first aim is to determine the effects of thermal stress and reduced water and food availability on behavioural patterns and physiological stress in large free-living mammals. We have developed innovative techniques for long-term remote measurement of body temperature, locomotor activity, drinking patterns, thermoregulatory behaviour and local microclimate around an animal. Most studies investigating stress responses and other physiological variables in mammals have relied on measurements made from restrained animals housed under artificial conditions. While these investigations have yielded valuable insights, they do not accurately predict how animals function in their natural environment or respond to management interventions. Remote measurement techniques, therefore, are essential for elucidating physiological responses of animals. Such data are of particular significance in South Africa, where conservation areas currently are being extended into lands previously used for commercial purposes, and further habitat and climate transformation associated with global change is imminent. The kinds of MSc and PhD projects on offer under this research theme include:

  1. Selective brain cooling in camels
  2. Thermoregulation in free-ranging warthogs
  3. Microclimate selection and microclimate mosaics available to antelope
  4. Is hypothermia responsible for mass die-offs of kudu in the Eastern Cape?
  5. Can body temperature be used to predict productivity in cattle?

Please contact Prof Andrea Fuller (andrea.fuller@wits.ac.za) for more information about the projects and the availability of bursaries.

Physiology of game management procedures

The second theme derives from information indicating that capture and chemical immobilization of mammals results in severe hyperthermia (body temperatures reach levels as high as 43.5°C), which appears to predispose the animals to capture myopathy, the leading cause of death during capture operations. The opioid drugs, commonly used for capture of antelope, also induce respiratory depression (breathing difficulties) and resultant mortality. We therefore are investigating ways to reduce the stress response, hyperthermia, and respiratory depression in mammals during capture and transport. Effective management and conservation of our unique mammalian biodiversity is feasible only with a complete understanding of how animals respond to stress. The kinds of MSc and PhD projects on offer under this research theme include:

  1. Prevention of opioid-induced respiratory depression during chemical immobilization of wild animals
  2. Does cooling of a hyperthermic animal after capture improve an animal’s welfare?
  3. How do alpha 2 agonists influence gas exchange in the lungs and can their antagonists help?
  4. Responses of antelope to translocation: activity and body temperature patterns of animals following release 

Please contact Prof Andrea Fuller (andrea.fuller@wits.ac.za) for more information about the projects and the availability of bursaries.

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