Ecologist • Conservation Scientist • Invasion Biologist • Herpetologist
Warren Schmidt holds a Master of Science degree in Ecological Sciences awarded by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He has three decades of experience in ecology, conservation science, invasion biology and herpetology. He has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, and lecturer, and has presented talks, seminars, and lectures to thousands of people from pre-schoolers to university students. The following is a summary of work experience and projects undertaken.
Ecology and Conservation Science
I have had a life-long interest in ecology and conservation science and have merged all the various disciplines into one interwoven fabric, fascinated by the processes and selective pressures that form and shape our natural world. I have a strong academic interest in evolutionary biology, conservation science and ecology, including terrestrial, aquatic, and urban ecology, as well as restoration ecology. These various categories are often closely interlinked with invasion biology and herpetology and therefore specific projects and publications are included under Invasion Biology and Herpetology.
In addition to the above, I’m interested in island ecology, biogeography, and successional ecology – studying the pathways of biological establishment, succession, population ecology and the impact of invasive species on ecosystem functioning. My interest in islands was stimulated after visiting Rangitoto Island near Auckland, New Zealand in 2004. I subsequently read two fascinating books – The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen on island biogeography and Mark Jaffe’s And No Birds Sing which highlights the devastating impact of an invasive snake on the Pacific island of Guam.
I have a deep interest in regional biomes and how plants and animals adapt to these biomes and bioregions and the barriers to species dispersal. The trophic dynamics and successional changes over time are of interest, particularly the impact humans are having on the natural environment and how species adapt or succumb to these rapid changes. This includes the impact of climate change and how this will shape future distributions and populations, all of which are important in conservation planning. This extends to water quality and availability for efficient ecosystem functioning and services.
My interest in invasion biology began in June 2009 when I worked as a Specialist Consultant in the Biosecurity Advocacy and Communications Programme under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in South Africa. I was contracted between 1 June 2009 to 31 December 2016 and was responsible for drafting communications material for websites, magazines, and educational brochures. In addition, our office was responsible for organising and hosting large-scale national stakeholder meetings and workshops across the country. The advocacy was in relation to the newly promulgated National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) – Alien and Invasive Species Regulations. Our office worked closely with the green industries and the plant nursery, landscaping and pet trades.
I actively participated in several working groups including the National Cactus Working Group, National Invasive Animal Forum, KwaZulu-Natal Invasive Species Forum, and the Cape Invasive Animal Forum. I was a mentor to 18 biosecurity interns in the Groen Sebenza programme and provided guidance and training on invasive species and biosecurity.
During this tenure I worked closely with numerous government institutions and departments including the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA); Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), including the Agricultural Research Council – Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC-PPRI); South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI); South African National Parks (SANParks); the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University (C∙I∙B); City of Cape Town Invasive Species Unit, and eThekwini Municipality – Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.
I am currently working on several invasive species projects, including monitoring of the Asian Black-spined Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and other projects on invasive amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and arachnids.
I have had an interest in reptiles and amphibians since 1987 and joined the Herpetological Association of Africa on 2nd May 1989 and have been a fulltime member for over 34 years and have attended several of the Association’s conferences. I worked as Curator of Reptiles at the Transvaal Snake Park from 1 December 1992 until 28 February 1997. The Transvaal Snake Park was a world-renowned facility in Johannesburg, which pioneered reptile husbandry and the captive breeding of endangered species in the 1970s through to early the early 2000s, when the facility closed. Transvaal Snake Park was a private facility with a unique thermally controlled terraquarium with numerous public displays replicating the natural environment. I then took a position as Farm Manager at Kwena Gardens Crocodile Sanctuary situated within the resort complex of Sun City in North West Province, South Africa. I was employed at Kwena Gardens from 1 March 1997 to 31 March 1999. The farm was a public entertainment venue displaying Nile crocodiles as well as a commercial farming enterprise.
I have accumulated an extensive herpetological database spanning three decades of field observations. These data were incorporated into my Master of Science dissertation which was titled Snake Population Declines and Conservation – A global synthesis, and perspectives from southern Africa, based on long-term field observations. A full summary publication is currently being prepared on the database. My herpetological interests are broad but primarily focused on the diversity, taxonomy, conservation, and biogeography of snakes. However, I am interested in the natural history of frogs, lizards and crocodiles. From the database, approximately 200 records were submitted to the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA) – a project which culminated in the publication of the Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria (2014).
I have accompanied various herpetologists in the field including Dr Elizabeth Scott (American Museum of Natural History); Dr Caroline Yetman; Jens Reissig; Gerry and Marlene Swan (Sydney) and Steve Wilson (Brisbane). I have travelled extensively searching for amphibians and reptiles and my travels have taken me to every part of South Africa, as well as eSwatini (Swaziland), Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Australia (New South Wales and Queensland) and New Zealand (North and South Islands).
I have presented numerous talks and lectures on amphibians and reptiles to a diverse range of students and institutions, some including Potchefstroom University, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, Australian Herpetological Society Incorporated (Sydney, Australia), Macarthur Herpetological Society (Sydney), School of Biological Sciences – University of Sydney, and University of Connecticut (USA) field ecology students.
In January 2020 I attended the 9th World Congress of Herpetology hosted by the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, between 5-10 January.
Photojournalist and editor
During the period 1 April 1999 to 31 May 2009 I worked for a decade as a freelance and full-time photojournalist and editor for several consumer and trade publications related to the DIY, hardware, gardening, landscaping, and interior decorating industries. It was during this period when I wrote my first book published in 2006 by Struik titled Curious Creatures – Reptiles & Amphibians of Southern Africa.
Spiders, scorpions and other arachnids
I have been involved in numerous research projects and field excursions searching for spiders, scorpions and other arachnids. This was largely stimulated by attending the launch of the second phase of the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA), a project under the guidance of Professor Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman, now retired, from the Agricultural Research Council – Plant Protection Research Institute. I collected several hundred specimens and contributed numerous photographs, many of which were used to illustrate several books on spiders, including the First Atlas of the Spiders of South Africa (South African National Survey of Arachnida Technical Report 2010, Agricultural Research Council and South African National Biodiversity Institute).
I have also assisted scientists from the American Museum of Natural History on a field trip and scorpion survey to Malawi and Mozambique, where two new species of scorpion were collected and described (see Prendini 2015). New taxa described from this survey include Uroplectes malawicus and Uroplectes zambezicus (Scorpiones: Buthidae).
Prendini, L. 2015. Three new Uroplectes (Scorpiones: Buthidae) with punctate metasomal segments from tropical central Africa. American Museum Novitates 3840, 32 pp.
Biodiversity Nature – A photographic exploration of the biodiversity of South Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini
This project was initiated in September 2009 and to date (1 June 2020) has accumulated approximately 55 331 digital images covering thousands of plant and animal species from South Africa, and more recently, from Australia and New Zealand. Several hundred images have been used in numerous published books and field guides on natural history. In addition, many of these images have been incorporated into PowerPoint presentations used for formal lectures and general talks. I am in the process of writing further books on ecology, natural history and herpetology where these images will be used to illustrate the pages. Each image is taken in RAW format and backed up, and all images are filed and documented in a systematic sequence. The date, time and locality of each image is recorded and therefore provides an extensive natural history database and historical reference library to biodiversity in a given region. Much of this data has already being incorporated into various conservation projects such as the South African National Survey of Arachnida and ReptileMap (see above).