Guest blog post by John Midgley and Burgert Muller
Despite centuries of study, our knowledge of the natural world is still woefully inadequate. This is especially true for inaccessible regions, but these regions often hold interesting species of communities to study. The best studied country in the Afrotropics is South Africa, but nearby countries have received much less attention.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is nestled within the borders of South Africa and this landlocked country shares many ecological similarities with its neighbour. However, Lesotho has an average altitude that is 900 m higher, leading to differences in its fauna and flora, especially in its alpine areas, as these are much more extensive than in South Africa.
While the insects of South Africa are well studied, in particular the True flies (Diptera), Lesotho remains largely undersampled for flies, and that in combination with its unique habitat has created an opportunity to contribute to the country’s biodiversity knowledge.
With discovery on their minds, Dipterists from four institutions (KwaZulu-Natal Museum, National Museum, Albany Museum and Royal Museum for Central Africa) planned to undertake several fieldtrips to Lesotho. The aim was not to just increase the holdings of the institutions, as this would be short-sighted. Instead, the goal was to promote conservation and to improve on the current knowledge on the Diptera of Lesotho. The rest is natural history, and the special collection on the Diptera of Lesotho in African Invertebrates was born.
Even areas that have received little attention are not complete blank slates, and a handful of expeditions to Lesotho were undertaken in the mid-20th Century, most notably by the Lund Zoological Institute, The KwaZulu-Natal Museum, The Durban Natural Science Museum and the Albany Museum, but large targeted and purposeful collections are not common. The specimens from these expeditions are housed at various international and local South African institutions, which do have some limited collections of Lesotho material.
We added three further expeditions to this, in December 2021, November 2022 and January 2023, adding over 7000 specimens to the National Museum, Bloemfontein and KwaZulu-Natal Museum collections. The details of these specimens can be found in our recently published introduction to the Special Collection along with photographs of the collection sites from our expeditions.