SciFund - Hyobanche





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Published on Oct 30, 2011

This is my video for the SciFund challenge. I'm trying to raise $5,000 before December 15, 2011. Please donate - every little bit helps! Thanks!


Hyobanche* (Orobanchaceae), or Cats Nails as it is commonly known, is a small genus of parasitic plants native to southern Africa. These plants are root parasites, attaching themselves to the roots of other plants and drawing water, mineral nutrients, and carbon from their host plants. Sometimes it's hard to imagine that a plant can feed on another plant in this way, but there are many thousands of species in the plant kingdom that are parasitic on other plants. Parasitic plants can actually increase the diversity of plant species found in an ecosystem, and, thus, serve as an indicator for the health of an ecosystem.

South Africa is considered to be a biodiversity hotspot, especially for plants. Unfortunately, with the projected impacts of climate change, Southern Africa, along with its biota, will be amongst the first to feel the effects of global warming.

The canary in a coal mine scenario:

Cats Nails occurs in a variety of habitats across southern Africa, but is especially well represented in the Cape Floral Kingdom. It is found only in healthy ecosystems that are not heavily impacted by humans. Because it depends on other plants for its nutrition and survival, it can serve as a proxy for determining the health of an ecosystem. In other words, where one finds Cats Nails, one will find an ecosystem with a high amount of plant diversity, which, in turn, supports a high amount of animal diversity. On the other hand, where ecosystems that should have Cats Nails, or, more specifically, have records of Cats Nails occurrence in the past but are now lacking this parasitic plant, there is a clear warning that the ecosystem has been impacted in some way. Most probably, this is from human encroachment. This is the parallel of Cats Nails serving as a "canary in the coal mine." It is a strong indicator species that all is well, or there is something going on that needs attention.

My research on Cats Nails:

I've been working on the systematics and natural history of Cats Nails since 1996 and have discovered 1) that it has more species than previously described, 2) its parasitic life history story is much more intriguing than ever suspected, and 3) it needs much more basic research to discover its ecological requirements, the range of plants it parasitizes, where new species have arisen, and the evolutionary history to explain the patterns of diversity discovered over the past decade. Since 2010, I've initiated a network of South African spotters who report on occurrences of Cats Nails in the field by making entries into iSpot - a database of South African biodiversity, or by emailing me the occurrence information. This network enables long-term monitoring of the ecosystems where Cats Nails occurs.

How this funding will be used:

I propose to conduct more fieldwork to sample more populations of Cats Nails for my laboratory studies, to collect more host root tissue samples to continue my studies on the host range for the species, and to make observations about the ecosystems where species of Cats Nails occur. I currently have a group of very capable undergraduate students assisting in the laboratory research for a variety of projects on Cats Nails, including population genetics, delimitation of species boundaries, and phylogenetics. Group funding will facilitate fieldwork as well as laboratory research on this interesting parasitic plant.

Your donations will be used to help pay travel expenses for field work, buy laboratory supplies for research, and in support of undergraduate research projects.

*Hyobanche is pronounced High-oh-bank'-ee


RocketHub is not an investment or charity. It is an exchange: funds from fans for rewards from me.

It's an All & More funding mechanism: if I don't reach my financial goal I get to keep what I raise. But if I do reach my goal, I get access to exciting opportunities.


http://wolfelab.wordpress.com/ (News from the Wolfe Lab Blog)


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