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Rooisand Desert Ranch - Presently research
In December 2002 I took up my post at Århus University in Denmark (Ass. Prof. T. Bilde) and immediately started my quest for a true oddity of arachnology. Namibia boasts one of the few social spider species worldwide: Stegodyphus dumicola.
My search remained fruitless at first, but then I struck gold at Rooisand Desert Ranch. To top it all the owner of the farm turned out to be a generous supporter of research. Thanks to Johannes Schmidt the international research team (with members from Germany, Denmark, Israel and Namibia) was able to set up a field laboratory at Rooisand.
During the months that followed we observed the social behaviour of the spiders, which live in colonies, and we carried out experiments on the success of their reproduction. The experiments showed that by comparison this spider species has less offspring at Rooisand than it has in more humid parts of Namibia. One possible explanation could be the reduced availability of prey, since these spiders hunt together and share their prey.
Under laboratory conditions we had to feed the spiders, of course. The white wall of Rooisand's outbuildings proved very useful for this task, as scores of nocturnal insects could be collected there for "fodder".
This zoological research project would probably not have been possible without the ready support and concessions by the farm management. Our sincere thanks are therefore extended to the Schmidt family and to all the farm's employees. Lastly it should be mentioned that at Rooisand it is definitely worthwhile to look out for the smaller creatures, too - as the picture of a pair of Stegodyphus bicolor no doubt proves impressively.
Dr. Klaus Birkhofer
Institute of Zoology
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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