G. Contrafatto

This report is being published with much delay, due to a somewhat disruptive change in server operating system and hardware.  My apology for this.

July 2000 was an exciting month, around KwaZulu-Natal, for systematic biologists. Following the second conference of the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology, at Mtunzini, some of the delegates at this conference convened at the University of Natal Durban campus for a workshop on Geometric Morphometrics. This workshop was organized by Teresa Kearney under the aegis of CONSPEC and the Durban Natural Science Museum (DNSM), with funding from the Science Liaison Office of the NRF.  Peter Taylor (DNSM) and, to a lesser extent, myself contributed to the organization of this event. This was the second, of such intitiatives held at this venue, after the successful INTERMORPH held in June 1998; we are particularly mindful of the fact that neither of these would have taken place without the support of the NRF.

We are grateful to both, James Rohlf and Marco Corti for having accepted the challenge of presenting the field of geometric morphometrics from A to Z, to a bunch of uninitiated like us. After all, both these guys had every right to a rest, after presenting two excellent conference papers in the idillic surroundings and relaxing atmosphere of Mtunzini! A total of 15 people, mostly from Southern African Institutions but, also from distant countries, such as Sudan and Belgium, were represented. This time around, interest in the field was demonstrated by the fact that southern African academic institutions, which were not present at the previous event, each sent several participants to our workshop. We presume that this is a sign of wakening interest and may augur well for future applications of Geometric Morphometrics by African scientists.  The workshop, which began on Monday 17th and closed on Thursday 20th July, was held in the "Multimedia" room of the UND Information Technology division. Delegates had at their disposal, besides 20 reasonably fast PC's and some networking facilities, various image capture devices including a state-of-the-art high resolution digital video camera brought by Marco Corti, especially for this occasion.

Mornings were devoted to lectures in the, more or less, theoretical aspects while afternoons were, generally, used by the delegates to practice (mostly with their own specimens) image acquisition, landmark capture and become familiar with James' Thin Plate Spline software, NTSYS and other packages for morphometric analysis. The workshop was opened by Olav Jordens excellent lectures in matrix algebra, a useful adjunct to facilitate understanding of the statistics used in shape analysis, at least for people like me who were never exposed to this subject.  James and Marco then, took over and for the next four mornings dealt very lucidly with the intricacies of explaining multivariate methods, landmark data methods, components of shape, Kendall's shape space, deformation grids and thin plate splines. A valid contribution to the tuition efforts was also supplied by Peter Taylor and Teresa Kearney, who demonstrated the use of several software packages such as TPSdig, GRF-nd etc..  On the final workshop day, we had a "round table" session in which  participants delivered a report on their practical work, theoretical aspects connected with their data sets and problems encountered in the actual implementation of the methods used. This session, perhaps, highlighted the research direction being taken in Southern Africa in the application of geometric morphometrics. The variety of organisms dealt with was wide: people described projects such as rodent phylogeny (Eitmad Rahman, Sarah Mullin, Isa-Rita Russo, Nico Dippenaar) and bat taxonomy (Teresa Kearney and Peter Taylor), which are more familiar to my line of work. However, more exotic investigations such as Carica plants (Eliza Romeijn-Peeters) and weevil taxonomy for plant protection purposes (Riaan Stals) or millipedes (Mark Cooper) bees (Andrew Masemola, Meshack Masindi), sharks (Brett Human), fur seals (Paul Odendaal) and sun birds (Rauri Bowie), were described. To my mind, this suggests that one route through which integration is occurring, in systematic biology, is by the application of common methodologies to similar questions applied to a wide variety of organisms. As pointed out by Peter Linder, in the SASSB web site, traditional division between disciplines (e.g.: Botany and Zoology) may be disappearing.

Documentation regarding the workshop, such as photo, list of participants and presentations, can be downloaded from the appropriate links accessed from the download page.

 Document created August 2000.