Lithops project blog

Lithops project blog

... AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

This is the blog page of the Lithops Project, in which we investigate the extent and evolution of locally optimized camouflage coloration in the enigmatic African "stone plants" belonging the genus Lithops.

In the first part of the project, we use hyperspectral camera equipment for making detailed comparisons of the visual properties of Lithops species and their local soil across numerous locations in southern Africa.

We set out for our first month-long field expedition on April 1, 2016 - if all goes according to plan, we should be able to post updates every 2-3 days.

Our imaging expeditions are supported by National Geographic Society Science and Exploration Europe. Hyperspectral camera equipment is provided by the Surface Optics Corporation.

For more information on our project, check out www.lithopsproject.org

The white ecosystems

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Thu, April 14, 2016 09:54PM
After another couple of days in the field, we decided to stop in a guesthouse in Kenhardt for the night, for the following reasons: charging camera and laptop batteries, backing up tons of image files, and showering. The last reason was the most important, because Allan, Willem, Jeroen, and Matt started to reek seriously (I still smell like flowers).

In the last days, we've gotten into whitish quartzite soils, in which many animals and plants are very pale, forming whole white ecosystems.

Avonia sp.:




The alien-looking Dinteranthus pole-evansii, which looks like a cracked golfball:


Then an again gigantic, but white, Trachypetrella stone grasshopper (we're starting to suspect that some of these are new species):


And a cute little wingless Ligariella praying mantis:



And, somewhat unsurprisingly, the minute Lithops fulleri has white flowers:










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The other weirdoes

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Tue, April 12, 2016 05:33PM
Lithops species are not the only plants that look strange in South African deserts, also other groups use camouflage for avoiding detection. Here's a Titanopsis species.


The grazing pressure on sheep and cattle pastures is high in many places, but many plants manage to avoid being eaten by growing flat on the ground.


And the insects are no less strange or well-camouflaged, Willem found this enormous toadhopper today when it happened to move a bit, the monster was about 12 cm long!





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Small successes:)

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Tue, April 12, 2016 05:10PM
Yesterday started badly, we spent most of the day driving and checking localities reported in Desmond Cole's classic Lithops book, but found nothing. In the afternoon, we changed strategy and started asking around farms for Lithops sightings, and got a hint that eventually led us to a 85-year old farm worker, who gave us good instructions. Unfortunately we had to set up camp before getting to the place, because it was getting late.


But in the morning the information proved to be correct! We found a good-sized population of L. hookeri, and spent most of the day doing multi- and hyperspectral imaging of the plants. Now we are having a short break in Prieska, but soon we'll head for new adventures.





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The hyperspec camera is finally here

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Sun, April 10, 2016 02:27PM
Hero of the day: Matt Britton (on the left below) drove all day yesterday to bring us the hyperspec camera once it had been released by the customs! He arrived late, but made it in time to see our first proper UV results.

We've been living on the porch of a farmhouse some way from Hopetown for the last couple of days, but now we're again headed for more remote regions.




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Sun!

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Sat, April 09, 2016 05:33PM
The sun is finally here again, after days of rain and wind. This definitely more like what I expected. Yesterday we did a lot of prospecting in new spots, but with no luck with regards to Lithops. The scenery is amazing though.


Today, we have perfected our VIS+UV photography skills at two previously-known locations. Lithops hookeri is flowering beatifully at this time of the year, which makes finding them a lot easier.


Note that Willem also posts images on Instagram, those can be found at https://www.instagram.com/lithopsproject !





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First three days

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Thu, April 07, 2016 02:48PM
We finally got out of town around noon on the 5th, and dashed about 600 km northwards. We set up camp at sunset, and continued the next morning. We experienced our first flat tire after about 10 km, but the wheel was rapidly replaced, especially because we got help from a local road crew that happened to dive by. Otherwise people and cars were few and far in between.




Here are our additional team members, Willem Augustyn and Jeroen van der Merwe, both from the University of Stellenbosch.


And here are our first Lithops plants! These are from a small population of Lithops aucampiae, which we found on the second evening according to a hint obtained from a Lithops specialist.


Now on the third day, the weather has been rainy and windy, so we have made only tests with our multispec UV+VIS setup and concentrated on finding new populations (which we have noticed to be rather difficult). The UV+VIS camera seems to work fine, but we'll have to wait for better weather for the actual imaging.

Our internet connections are sporadic, but we hope to send updates every now and then.

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Gotta go

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Mon, April 04, 2016 10:06PM
The pressure is building, so early tomorrow morning we will head north to start our expedition, regardless of the fact that our borrowed hyperspectral camera is still stuck somewhere between DHL and the customs in Cape Town (despite fervent phoning and e-mailing by Allan today, the estimated transit time for the last few kilometres is in the order of five days, which would basically cut a quarter off our field time). Hopefully we'll get the camera transported to us somehow later. In the meantime, we will concentrate on finding Lithops populations, as well as on photography using our multispectral camera setup (i.e., an SLR camera that has been modified so that is can see UV and visible light).



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Video test

Expedition blog 2016Posted by Tommi Nyman Sun, April 03, 2016 09:41PM
Video training while walking across fynbos vegetation at the Cape Peninsula... This is a pure test clip to see whether we are able to share videos too once we get out of town. Tomorrow is Monday, so there will hopefully be more serious progress.








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