A continent-wide blueprint for conservation action in Africa:
Conservation priorities integrating
multiple animal groups,
human development and resource limitation
Principal Investigators: Carsten Rahbek (Zoological Museum) & Andrew Balmford (Cambridge University)
Patterns in the distribution of species in Africa hold a deep fascination for biologists (Kingdon 1989). Understanding these patterns holds great potential for revealing insights into speciation (e.g. Hall & Moreau 1970, Snow 1978), systematics (e.g. Roy et al. 1997), endemism (e.g. Fjeldså & Lovett 1997), migration (e.g. Moreau 1966) and many other fields. Patterns of species distribution also have urgent applied implications, because humanity's impact is causing an extinction crisis in which species are being lost at a rate 1,000-10,000 times faster than that usual in the geological past (Pimm et al. 1995). High rates of habitat destruction worldwide suggest this (Whitmore 1997), and empirical assessment of the status of individual species confirms it (Brooks & Balmford 1996, Brooks et al. 1997).
It is increasingly clear that this crisis is not uniform: both biological diversity and humanity's impacts upon it are geographically clustered into 'hotspots', especially in the tropics (Myers 1988). Thus, the conservation of species one-by-one is inefficient (Pitelka 1981). In response, conservation biologists are beginning to address ways in which multitudes of species can be conserved together, rather than individually (Ehrlich 1992). One of the greatest challenges facing biologists is therefore to design analytical tools and conservation plans capable of representing as much remaining biodiversity as possible in the 5-10% of the earth's surface likely assigned for preservation of biodiversity (Wilson 1988, ICBP 1992). There has been much progress over the past decade in developing powerful algorithms that allow the identification of highly efficient sets of priority areas (Pressey et al. 1993, Williams 1996). These techniques rely on high quality distributional datasets, which are very scarce, especially in the tropics where most biodiversity occurs. Conservation plans also need to be advocated simultaneously by governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental organisations if they are to implemented on the ground.
We have a unique dataset
(developed at the Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen), which offers
an extremely exciting opportunity to pioneer a continent wide blueprint
for conservation action. Our dataset summarises available published and
unpublished data, and expert opinion on the distribution of birds, mammals,
snakes, and amphibians for all of sub-Saharan Africa, at a much finer resolution
than anything previously available (a continental resolution of one-degree
grid squares). These data have been accumulated at ZMUC over the last four
years (Burgess et al. 1997), drawing on a vast international network
of collaborators within academia, governmental institutions and NGOs.
Research aims and objectives
This current proposal aims to tackle the following questions:
2) How far would conserving priority areas for one group conserve species in other groups, and why?
3) How far do conservation priorities conflict with development, and can these conflicts be reduced to take consideration of real world situations in Africa?
The databases contain the distributions of all 1911 species (604,318 records) of birds, 960 species (169,597 records) of mammals, 430 species (34,889 records) of snakes and 620 species (29,750 records) of amphibians found in the Afrotropical Region. For all groups, the maps at ZMUC represent the best available anywhere in the world. Over 50% of the maps have been developed at ZMUC, and are thus primary sources which have never been previously published or analysed. For all four taxonomic groups, distributional data have been digitised and are accessible to the powerful program WORLDMAP, specifically designed for cost-efficient conservation priority analyses (Williams 1996).
More information on the databases
information on WORLDMAP
In addition to biological data, ZMUC holds large-scale African data sets of environmental variables including vegetation type, climate, geology, soils and topography. The threat status of all species is known from its listing in the Red Data Book (Collar & Stuart 1985, Collar et al. 1994, Groombridge & Baillie 1996), and we have relative abundance data for many of the species. Protected area data are available for Africa in a variety of formats, most important of which are the digital maps produced by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Iremonger et al. 1997).
Furthermore, we have data
on the distribution of human population densities (available on the World
Wide Web from a number of organisations).
Direct output from project
One main output is papers aimed at high-impact journals. Given the continental scale of our dataset, novelty of our approaches and broad implications of our results, we aim to publish our key research results at the highest possible level, in journals such as Nature and Science. We believe this is feasible given the background of the scientists involved, their proven records at publishing in these journals, and the nature of the databases and analytical programs available to us.
We also aim to feed the results
to our extensive network of contacts with conservation agencies across
Africa and in Copenhagen, Cambridge, and Washington, D.C./New York (most
of the major international NGO's are placed in the latter three cities).
The researchers of this application have extended personal contacts (through
previous collaborative work and/or employment) with Conservation International
WWF-US, BirdLife International, The Nature Conservancy, the World Conservation
Monitoring Centre, Conservation International. The results will also be
fed directly to the GEF Secretariat (GEFSEC) in Washington D.C., the GEF
Units in WorldBank, and the GEF-Units in UNDP, New York, through both existing
and developing relationships with GEF staff in both Africa and the USA.
Outline of follow-up activities
We anticipate that one very
important follow-up activity of the research program will be a series of
workshops in African countries, aimed at integrating the results of our
study into national procedures for conservation priority-setting. Most
African countries are in the process of establishing national biodiversity
plans, as part of their commitments under the Convention on Biological
Diversity. These include the identification of key areas for conservation
- largely determined by within-country analyses. The research program has
established links of collaboration with Conservation International, and
with various other organisations responsible for co-ordinating such regional
and national plans (e.g., WWF-US, BirdLife International and IUCN, as well
as less formal contacts). We plan to use these links to participate in
workshops where national priorities can be compared and integrated with
continent-wide priorities. Getting continental priorities onto national
agendas will be a crucial part of turning our recommendations into conservation
action; on the other hand, establishing the international significance
of key national areas should also help catalyse efforts for their conservation
within the countries concerned.
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Last updated:24 maj 2007