The first Meletse Research Meeting took place on 19 September 2017, hosted by the Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria (UP). Sixteen individuals, from four institutions (AfricanBats NPC, Centre for Viral Zoonoses (UP), Centre for Wildlife Management (UP) and the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History), participated. Nine students (1 honours, 5 MSc and 3 PhD) presented their projects linked to the Meletse Bat Research and Conservation Training Centre (MBRCTC). Principal investigators and post-doctoral fellows also presented on projects and future plans for the broader Meletse study area.

The purpose of this meeting was to allow students and researchers from across different disciplines (taxonomy, ecology and virology and bacteriology), to share their projects and what they have found to date. Many of the students have previously worked in the field together. Nevertheless, few knew the details of their colleague’s projects, especially those from different disciplines/institutions. The aim of the meeting was to identify and develop synergies across the various projects and disciplines.

The projects were not limited to bats, but covered a range of research that is currently underway or planned for next year within the Meletse area. These projects provide a better understanding of the broader surrounding land-use and effects of changes in small mammals (bats, rodents, mice and sengi), vegetation, and insects, as well as their associated microbial life (viruses and bacteria).

Everyone was challenged to move from “we found x and y (bacteria, bat, rodent, insect, virus)” to rather ask questions of “why is x or y (bacteria, bat, rodent, insect, virus) found here (space)/then (time) and not there (space)/when (time)?”

This meeting allowed the principal investigators to identify future projects, and attempt to answer the ‘Why’ questions using cross-disciplinary research. Current students will look at developing stronger cross-discipline research in future post-graduate projects.

Below is a list of the presentation titles, speakers and their associations:

  • Overview of protected area significance of Gatkop cave/Meletse – management and reporting requirements – Mr. Ernest Seamark (AfricanBats NPC)
  • Small mammal species occurring at Meletse, including variations over time and space, and life history traits – Dr. Teresa Kearney (Ditsong National Museum of Natural History)
  • Assessing the effects of land-use change on small mammal community assemblages – Dr. Mark Keith (Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria)
  • A framework for the study of zoonotic disease emergence and its drivers – Prof. Wanda Markotter, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Seasonal comparisons of the Barn owl (Tyto alba) diet in the Meletse mountain region in northern South Africa – Ms. Emma Swartz (Honour’s student, Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria)
  • Land cover effects on the space use of cave dwelling assemblages – Ms. Mariette Pretorius (DST-NRF intern, AfricanBats NPC)
  • Temporal changes in food resource availability of bat assemblages in two karst landscapes – Mr. Tlaishego Tedson Nkoana (MSc student, Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria)
  • Variation in abundance and body condition of the Meletse bat assemblage, Limpopo Province, South Africa – Ms. Monique Shanahan (MSc student, Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria)
  • Paramyxovirus diversity, host range, and transmission: What we know – Ms. Marinda Mortlock (PhD candidate, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Paramyxoviruses present in South African bat species – Ms. Erika Bruck (MSc student, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Detection of paramyxoviruses in small non-volant mammals found in Meletse, South Africa – Ms. Lebo Sibiya (MSc student, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Detection and characterization of potential zoonotic coronaviruses in bats and rodents of Meletse – Ms. Hlengiwe Nkambule (MSc student, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Insight into the relationship of arena- and hantaviruses in rodents: a perspective on their ecology, distribution and disease – Ms. Candice Ceusterman (PhD candidate, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Rabies related viruses detected in bats in Meletse – Dr. Jessica Coertse (Post-doctoral fellow, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Use of metagenomics to analyse excretions of pathogens – Ms. Marike Geldenhuys (PhD candidate, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Bacterial pathogens identified in bats in Meletse – Prof. Wanda Markotter (Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)
  • Tattooing and other tracking methods – Dr. Low de Vries (Post-doctoral fellow, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, University of Pretoria)

This meeting and the various projects could not have been possible without the support of: