Searching for, and cataloguing the reptiles in Southern Africa has been done before, but the recent efforts of seven editors and 26 authors produced a 485-page reptile atlas which took a massive nine years to complete.

The ‘Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland’ includes the conservation status of 421 recognised species and their subspecies found in the region.

Co-author and associate professor Graham Alexander from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits University explains that contains a wealth of information.

“The Atlas has the most up to date distribution maps (for reptiles) ever produced for the region. The data in these distribution maps represents all of the available data that we have collected since people started studying reptiles in South Africa…”

But the authors had a little bit of help, as compiling such a huge collection of reptiles is a daunting task for anybody – even for an associate professor. Using the power of the internet, Alexander and his colleagues turned to crowdsourcing to supplement the images and information contained in the book.

Asking the public to participate, 61 volunteer field workers stepped forward to help out in 24 field surveys which spanned about 270 days across three years. The crowdsourcing effort also helped to establish the SARCA Virtual Museum.

The purpose of the museum is to allow the public to submit photographs of reptiles together with where they were spotted, which a panel of 20 experts then use to identify the critters.

“This citizen science participation has resulted in people focussing on areas where not much collecting has been done in the past. It filled the gaps in distribution maps and identified areas that need more attention. The virtual museum will also carry on, and is managed and run by the Animal Demography Unit at UCT. The virtual museum concept is now also being used for other atlases,” Alexander said.

The ‘Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland’ is available as a hardcover book and more information can be found here.

[Source: Wits University, Image – CC by 2.0/NotCub]