The Rollinson Lab 

Evolutionary ecology, long-term data, environmental change

Reptile Surveys in South Africa

I became interested the evolutionary ecology of reptiles and amphibians during my undergrad years. Much of this inspiration can be attributed to the excellent professors and instructors at Nipissing University, who volunteered to bring a few keen students to Killbear Provincial Park to become involved with rattlesnake research. At the time, there was an enthusiastic research program on the evolutionary ecology and conservation of Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnakes operating in Killbear. Volunteers such as myself helped radio-track wild snakes and participated in systematic searches for unmarked snakes. I found working with venomous reptiles outrageously exciting, and I resolved to spend a summer working on the rattlesnake project, or with some similar project on wild, venomous snakes.

My opportunity arose in 2008, after I made a pitch to the late Dr. Ian Giddy, who was chair of the Wildcliff Nature Reserve Board of Directors in South Africa. I proposed that the reserve could stand to benefit from a comprehensive reptile survey, if only to help inform visitors about what species of wildlife they could expect to encounter in the reserve. A few short months later, I was standing on African soil in high-cut gumboots, flipping over every rock in sight, harassing a troop of baboons, and searching the tall grass for anything moving. I was able to confirm the presence of 13 reptile species on the reserve. I also compared the species abundance of reptiles in areas dominated by black wattle, an invasive tree species on the reserve, to species abundance in natural areas. I found a trend suggesting that black wattle has a negative impact on species diversity, presumably because wattle grows in dense stands that cause relatively cool and unfavourable micro-climates for reptiles. Finally, I scoured the reserve for Robertson Dwarf Chameleons (Bradypodion gutturale) in hopes of collecting DNA samples for Dr. Krystal Tolley, who was interested in the genetic structure of local populations. Unfortunately, despite hours of searching, I couldn't find a single chameleon on the reserve! ... luckily, Dr. Tolley was nice enough to take me to see a few wild Cape Dwarf Chameleons off the reserve, near Stellenbosch.

The founder of Wildcliff, Dr. Ian Giddy, passed away in 2009. As a result of his passing, Wildcliff Reserve is no more. Nevertheless, Ian's dedication to conservation lives on in other areas of the world, including in Costa Rica, where he founded Cloudbridge Reserve, which is still in operation. Ian is greatly missed, as he is a testament to how dedicated entrepreneurs can make a big impact on local conservation initiatives. His legacy lives on through these initiates, and through the enthusiastic young scientists to whom he gave a chance to work on his projects and explore the natural world.

Read more about my research at Wildcliff

Rollinson, N. 2008. Predicted effect of black wattle removal on repltilian species diversity at the Wildcliff Nature Reserve, South Africa. Technical Report. Submitted to Jenny Giddy, head of Wildcliff Nature Reserve Board of Directors. pdf


Rollinson, N. 2008. Reptilian diversity at Wildcliff Nature Reserve, South Africa.

Technical Report. Submitted to Jenny Giddy, head of Wildcliff Nature Reserve Board of Directors pdf

Rollinson, N. 2008. A preliminary survey for dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion gutturale) at Wildcliff Nature  Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. Technical Report. Submitted to Jenny Giddy, head of Wildcliff Nature Reserve Board of Directors. pdf

PIT-tagging a rattlesnake, Killbear, Ontario
Hidden Valley, Wildcliff, South Africa

View from the mountain, Wildcliff, South Africa

I'm trying very hard to appear casual, but  really I had to set the camera up on a timer, leap across shifty rocks, adopt a stance that makes me look laid back, and wait for the beep.