Author: Joshua Daskin, PhD Student, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Gorongosa is a place full of surprises. And in my first two months working here I’ve had my fair share.
I’m a studying the ecology of Gorongosa’s pans, the small ponds that dot the park’s savanna. I want to know what controls the variety of species in each pan—why some fish, frogs, and insects are in certain pans but not others. Is there intense competition for space in these small aquatic habitats so that once one predator gets in all the rest are excluded?
Alternatively, do the terrestrial mammals have a strong effect on what lives in the pans? But while they visit these pans, Gorongosa’s elephants, antelopes, and warthogs often do more than just drink. They may dig, wallow, and take dust baths. They also graze around the pan, defecate in the water, and disperse aquatic organism hanging on to the mammals.
I’ve been spending my days hip-deep trying to start answering this and other questions about how the pan ecosystems function. I use a net and homemade traps to sample the pans and am planning to set up an experiment in the savanna on my next trip. Every day I’m surprised by something I find—a metamorphosing tadpole with brilliant red spots on its legs, iridescent silver and gold fish, and all manner of alien-like insects call the pans their home.
Below are a few of the wild critters I’ve pulled out of Gorongosa’s pans, so far. There are always more surprises in store in Gorongosa! Hope to see you out in the park soon.
A dragonfly larva