Virtual Issue To Commemorate Don Broadley African Journal of Herpetology

African Journal of Herpetology

In this virtual issue, guest editors of the special issue of African Journal of Herpetology (volume 66; issue 2) were asked to pick two publications each authored by Don Broadley from the back catalogue of African Journal of HerpetologyJournal of the Herpetological Association of Africa and Journal of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia. In addition, we asked them to explain the influence of their choices on African herpetology and themselves.

John Measey

I am particularly interested in burrowing herpetofauna, and it was this interest that first brought me in contact with Don Broadley as an author. It is clear that Don has long been interested in burrowing reptiles, and this interest is evident from the earliest days of the Journal of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia (e.g. Broadley 1958), right up to the most recent issues of African Journal of Herpetology (Broadley & Measey 2016). His interest was not only in taxonomy, but also making sure that the unusual natural history observations in this group were recorded (e.g. Broadley 1966; 1975; 1982). Although many of his publications were on burrowing snakes (e.g. both Scolecophidia and Alethinophidia), the bias in my choice is towards his work on amphisbaenians. My first choice is from the Journal of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia (Broadley 1963) and although short, highlights the importance of having a wide network of collectors who can take opportunities to collect amphisbaenians and fossorial snakes. In addition, Don took the opportunity to publish the natural history observations that have become the foundation of much of African herpetology. Don’s collaboration in the late 1960s and 1970s with Carl Gans (see Broadley 1972) saw an extremely productive period for the taxonomy and general understanding of the biology of African amphisbaenians. Subsequently, Don continued the work publishing his review of the Monopeltis capensis complex in 1997, which still stands as one of the most thorough examinations of any amphisbaenian (Broadley 1997), and is my second pick for this virtual issue.

Bill Branch

My first selected Broadley paper that was formative in my development as a herpetologist were his field note summaries of collecting trips. I was particularly inspired by these, and as my first selection I’ll choose his trip into the Kalahari and its amazing discoveries (Broadley 1967).  It is typical of Don’s expedition reports, which were always full of ecological and behavioural insights.  This was of particular interest not just because of the herpetology, but because it detailed Don’s close encounter with a lioness as he returned late and alone from collecting at night.  The lioness trailed him for nearly “300 yards”, getting closer and closer, before finally approaching “to within 15 yards”.  At this point Don scared her off by firing two rounds of dust shot at her head. As someone who has collected lizards with dust shot, I can vouchsafe that they have little defensive capabilities against lion!  Nor did Don apparently, as he noted somewhat laconically later in the article - “As this cat roared near camp every night, I did not do very much night collecting”.   Not all of Don’s expedition reports are quite as exciting, but all are filled with information, and I still gain new insight from re-reading them even now.  But a word of warning: I would guess that over 50% of the scientific names have changed over the intervening 45 years, and Don rarely used common names so you may need ready access to the internet.  

My second selected paper by Don is his ‘Checklist of the snakes of Southern Rhodesia’ (Broadley 1958), which appeared in the 3rd issue of the JHAR.  It is similar to other summary checklists of the various herpetofaunal groups that he included in these early issues of JHAR.  It wasn’t that this particular item stood out to me among these early articles. Rather, I pick it as an exemplar for their cumulative effect on my own approach to herpetology. These articles were working papers, prepared by Don for his own education, but shared with others.  He had no formal scientific training and many of these early items in the JHAR can be viewed as Don’s lecture notes and jottings with which he grounded himself in African herpetology.  In the year following his Checklist Don’s ambition and long-term focus is exemplified in a poorly-known paper that appeared in the prestigiousBulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard (Broadley, 1959). A point of interest is the subtitle, Part 1 – Snakes, as no subsequent parts appeared.  Compared with lizards, snakes at the time were considered relatively well-known, but for the next 40 years Don would undertake numerous detailed revisions of various lizard genera (see  a summary of all of these in Branch & Bates 2017, special issue of the AJH) as he strove to bring saurian taxonomy to a level comparable to that of snakes.

Aaron M. Bauer

My chief research interest is in the systemastics of the lizards of southern Africa, particularly geckos and skinks. Like so many groups, Don Broadley contributed substantially to our understanding of these, beginning with brief natural history notes in the early days of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia and moving on to revisionary works as his collections and knowledge of the fauna grew. I have chosen two of Don’s skink papers, both from the year 2000, a time when I already knew him well. Although Don worked largely in isolation early in his days in Zimbabwe, by this time African herpetology was a mature discipline and Don’s papers reflected his integration of the growing literature with his own extensive and detailed specimen data. The first paper, co-authored with another giant of African herpetology, Niels Jacobsen, describes a new species of Panaspis. This group has recently been the subject of a molecular phylogenetic analysis which revealed a great deal of previously unappreciated variation across the range of the genus. Don’s paper presaged this and was the first modern paper to begin to critically analyse variation in the widespread P. wahlbergii. The second paper is a major review of Trachylepis in southeastern Africa. Don returned to this group several times in his career. It was, and to some extent remains, a complex jumble of synonyms, cryptic species, and general confusion. Don’s insight about the genus has generally been proven right, but there is much still to be done, and spotlighting Don Broadley’s work on the group may prompt renewed interest in the group, and African skinks in general.

Martin J. Whiting

One of the reasons I am particularly interested in African flat lizards (Platysaurus) is because of Don Broadley. It’s no secret that Don was extremely meticulous and extracted every possible ounce of data (no scale went unnoticed!) from whatever group he was studying at the time. Fortunately for me, one of those groups was Platysaurus. Don’s masters thesis, awarded by the University of Natal, was a revision of the genus Platysaurus, which he published as a monograph in 1978 and which I have consulted repeatedly over the years. This monograph is not only a highly-detailed treatment of the genus including high quality line drawings, a key, and maps, but also includes detailed tables on coloration and figures detailing body size distribution. Don was well aware of the importance of natural history and as such, he dissected museum specimens in order to establish diet and aspects of reproductive biology. He also noticed that flat lizards very rarely occur together in sympatry, and he wondered about the evolutionary significance of this observation. He was clearly much more than just a taxonomist. The first paper I have selected is Studies on the ecology and ethology of African lizards, published in 1966. Given that Don was largely a one-man show in the 1960s studying the African herpetofauna (at least for Zimbabwe), this paper is telling. First, he was clearly influenced by Harris’ 1964 monograph on the ecology and behaviour of Agama agama and the possibility of conducting detailed autecological studies of lizards. He clearly states the importance of integrating natural history data into taxonomic revisions and he marked and followed reptiles and amphibians he caught in the Bulawayo Museum grounds (Broadley, 1973). Second, he cites many of the classic papers of the time, including key papers on reptile life history and thermal ecology, and more general theoretical works. I’m amazed that somebody in such a herpetologically depauperate environment was very much in the main stream. Most of us need a well-resourced institution with like-minded colleagues to stay ahead.

As somebody that spent many hours looking for Platysaurus, I had to include this next paper as my second choice: “In search of Platysaurus, from Rhodesia to Natal”. The paper largely represents Don’s detailed field notes, but allows the reader to travel back in time and get a sense of what being in the field with Don was like. No rock was left unturned and no crevice was over-looked. On this particular trip, he collected 108 specimens from six different ‘forms’, during what he termed as being “very limited time available for actual collecting”. It’s no wonder he made such a massive contribution to African herpetology.

Michael F. Bates

My interest in the taxonomy of African snakes and lizards is largely a result of studying the many detailed reviews by Don Broadley. His reviews were published in a variety of journals, especially those of the National Museums of Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) (Arnoldia and Occasional Papers of the National Museums of Rhodesia, especially in the 1970s and 1980s; Syntarsus, mostly in the 1990s). However, from 1996, Don also started submitting taxonomic reviews to the journal of the Herpetological Association of Africa—a total of 13 reviews were published (Broadley 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002; Broadley & Bauer 1998; Broadley & Branch 2002; Broadley & Wüster 2004; Broadley et al. 2006, 2014, 2017). Only one appeared in the old Journal of the Herpetological Association of Africa, with all subsequent reviews published after the name change to African Journal of Herpetology. Most reviews are of whole genera or parts thereof, but one is a review of the viperid tribe Atherini with the description of two new genera (Broadley 1996). Don’s last review, published posthumously, appears in this issue of the journal and also contains descriptions of two new genera (Broadley et al. 2017).

I have chosen two of Don’s detailed taxonomic reviews, published in consecutive issues of African Journal of Herpetology in 2002. The first is a review of the genus Cordylus in East Africa (co-authored by Bill Branch) and the second is a review of the sand snakes (Psammophis) in the southern half of Africa. By this time Don had clearly accepted application of the Evolutionary Species Concept, as evidenced by his elevation of all diagnosable subspecies of Psammophis to species status. Although there are still several unresolved taxonomic issues in Psammophis, which will probably require molecular analysis to resolve, this paper is still the most up-to-date analysis. Both papers are the typically detailed and meticulously structured papers one always expected from Don. Apart from having an interest in cordylids and sand snakes, I choose these papers because they represent the types of papers I most enjoyed. They include full species accounts with exhaustive bibliographies/synonomy lists, tables of comparative scale counts, detailed distribution maps, diagnostic keys for identification, and extensive lists of all localities and associated museum specimen numbers. The sand snake paper has as appendix consisting of over 16 pages of localities and specimen numbers! These two reviews were in fact the last ones Don published in the H.A.A.’s journal that did not contain at least a small molecular component (conducted by a co-author).

In his later years I was privileged to have collaborated with Don on two big revisions, one on Dasypeltis in north-eastern Africa and Arabia (submitted for publication), the other on the Gerrhosaurus nigrolineatus species complex (in preparation), and was able to appreciate the enormous amount of time, effort and exactness required in such endeavours. It is my hope that, in these times where molecular analyses have become so important in systematic studies, detailed analysis of morphological variation (with Don’s approach as a guideline) does not become of secondary importance.

Graham J. Alexander

I am no taxonomist, but I do rely on good taxonomy as a foundation for my work as a reptile ecologist, physiologist and biogeographer. Thus my interactions with Don were probably not typical of those of my colleagues, but in spite of this, Don’s work does form a crucial foundation to my research. For example, Don’s elevation of Python sebae natalensis to specific level helped me to understand the apparently-contradictory findings on facultative thermogenesis in this species. And before the days genetic sequencing, Don had an intuitive grasp of where species boundaries lay – I remember reading in disbelief his separation of Naja mossambicus from N. nigrocollis using the number of scales bordering the parietals as a morphological marker. This is one example of many where Don’s taxonomic intuition has stood the test of time. Although his publications were often Spartan when it came to ecological information, he would often make insightful comments on natural history. For example Don’s remarks that Puff Adders were an important component of the diet of Snouted Cobras was certainly borne out by my research which showed that more than 50% of the Puff Adder mortality in my study area was the result of cobra predation.

I also interacted with Don on a frequent basis when I was the editor of the African Journal of Herpetology. I took up the editorial reigns of African Journal of Herpetology starting at the time (2000-2006) of the transition from submission of hardcopy manuscripts to the emailing of electronic files, and Don took to the new technology like a fish to water. As editor and typesetter, I became familiar with each author’s mastery of the technology as I had to clean files of hidden incorrect and inappropriate formatting commands, and the removal of all ‘space-bar formatting’ (something I still have to do for my students). In this regard, Don was streaks ahead of many of his much-younger colleagues and he seemed to relish the fact that the new technology allowed him to break the barriers that a failing Zimbabwe had created. I loved typesetting the carefully drawing line drawings that Don produced and remember how I would painstakingly clean the scanned images of his carefully drawn maps.

Krystal A. Tolley

Because I am not a taxonomist myself, I have spent much of my career relying on taxonomists to follow through with the phylogenies that I produce. Don was a giant where this is concerned. He dedicated his life to the classification of African herps and his impact will be felt for generations.  Unfortunately, I only began working with Don in his later years, but I was constantly surprised that his insights based on morphology usually bore out in the phylogenetic analyses that we carried out. Where others assumed specific relationships based on morphology that ended being revealed as adaptive variation or morphological conservatism. Don saw past that somehow.

Although Don’s taxonomic work has a large footprint, what seems overlooked about his career is his yearning for knowing the unknown. He had a number of expeditions into the lesser known areas of Africa, these trips lasting weeks and months. It’s a far cry from today, where we jet in to an area and spend just a week or two scratching around. We drive on tar roads, use our cell phones to check emails, and charge our camera batteries with power banks. Don was an explorer, and this is what appeals to my heart most of all. He was only one step removed from the days of Richard Burton, John Speke, or Andrew Smith. Today, we might still have the drive to know the unknown, but we no longer apply the same lens to the landscape the way these men did. Therefore, my picks relate to Don’s expeditions particularly in the geographic areas where I have tried, in some small way, to walk in his footsteps.