Drylands Africa: key achievements 2006 - 2011
The broad scope of the Drylands Africa team covers multidisciplinary work over 15 sub-Saharan African countries, focusing in particular on compilation and dissemination of information on the region’s plant species and diversity and its application to conservation and sustainable use of plants; seed banking has been an important element of our work.
The Drylands: Africa team, comprising groups in the Herbarium, Millennium Seedbank and the Jodrell, is active in 15 sub-Saharan African countries. In each, we work in close partnership with in-country botanical institutions. Increasingly, as we expand our remit, we engage with a range of other stakeholders in African biodiversity, including forestry and agricultural research institutions, natural resource managers, conservationists and education professionals.
The last five years has seen a major push towards completion of our two long-term regional Flora programmes, the Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) and Flora Zambesiaca (FZ). For FTEA, 21 plant families covering 2220 species (approx. 18% of the total Flora) were published in 2006-2011, with the last three outstanding families either in press or at final editing. Due to be finished in 2012, this will be the largest tropical flora ever completed. For FZ, six parts covering 1050 species (approx. 10% of the total Flora) were published in the same time period, and the Flora is now over 80% complete with all outstanding groups having authors assigned to them and in progress.
These Floras provide an essential foundation for all botanical work in sub-Saharan Africa, but access to the multiple-volume physical form can be difficult, particularly in the field. We are therefore working towards delivering products that maximise ease of access and ability to search and query this important information. We have made FZ available as a searchable database online for all parts published up to 2008, whereas both FZ and FTEA, together with other important African botanical literature, have been digitised through RBG Kew’s involvement in the African Plants Initiative and are now accessible via JSTOR Plant Science. Our eFloras and Gateway to African Plants projects, both multi-partner online initiatives co-ordinated through RBG Kew, aim to draw together taxon-level botanical data for tropical Africa and Madagascar to provide more widely accessible and user friendly information and identification tools, including an interactive key to families and genera, updatable checklists, taxon descriptions and a glossary of terminology. We are also developing more user-friendly and/or more stakeholder-focused products, building on the strong foundation of the Floras. These include annotated regional checklists to inform conservation planning, e.g. The Conservation Checklist of the Trees of Uganda (in press), which provides summary information on over 800 species and their conservation status and image-rich fieldguides for particular regions or ecologically important plant groups, e.g. Fieldguide to the Mangrove Trees of Africa (2007).
Our increasingly applied approach, building on the sound basis of the Floras to deliver conservation-focused science, is exemplified by our programme of work in Mozambique established within the last five years. The Darwin Initiative project “Monitoring and Managing Biodiversity Loss in South-East Africa’s Montane Ecosystems” (2006-2010) was a multi-disciplinary, multi-partner initiative led by RBG Kew. Survey and inventory studies were carried out on five montane massifs in Mozambique and neighbouring Malawi to provide data on diversity, habitats and environmental threats that together feed into tools for management and monitoring of biodiversity at these important sites. The project, which culminated in a workshop held in Maputo in 2009 attended by members of the Mozambican Government, greatly raised the profile of biodiversity research in Mozambique and provided much needed support for conservation of these ecosystems, not least through the high-profile media coverage of the “discovery” of the extensive submontane forests of Mt Mabu. As a result of this work, longer-term conservation projects are currently under development by major conservation organisations on both Mt Mabu and Mt Namuli. Following on from this work, RBG Kew led a multi-disciplinary team in documenting the extent and diversity of poorly known coastal forests of northern Mozambique (2008-2011). During two expeditions, over 740 plant species were documented, including 68 new Mozambique records and 36 potentially new species. Combined use of remote-sensing imagery and ground survey revealed that only c. 400 km2 of coastal forest remains intact in the Cabo Delgado region, much less than previously thought; coastal forests are severely threatened with an estimated 80% loss in the last 150 years. This finding has led to interest from WWF Mozambique in developing a conservation project in the region, with RBG Kew agreeing to provide botanical input into any future work there.
A further post-Floras aim of the Drylands: Africa team is to identify and infill significant gaps in our knowledge of plant diversity and plant habitats in tropical Africa. This will be achieved through targeted survey and inventory work with associated accumulation of collections from these countries and application of these data to identifying regional plant conservation priorities. We have recently established a fledgling programme in Angola, one of the richest countries in terms of plant diversity and endemism in tropical Africa and yet one of the most poorly documented. Here, we are providing botanical expertise for the Angolan Protected Areas Expansion Strategy, for which the key five-year goal is to survey and document biodiversity at 11 sites within Angola that have been identified as of potentially high global conservation concern and so worthy of protection. The first expedition of this programme ran in April/May 2011, during which the RBG Kew-led team recorded over 40 new plant records for the country and a further 13 potentially new species; the resultant report has been presented to the Angolan government as evidence supporting the recommendation for gazettement of the study area as a new national park. Elsewhere, the Millennium Seed Bank’s involvement in Burkina Faso and Mali has greatly increased our knowledge of the floras of the Sahel region, and, together with our in-country partners, we are now finalising fieldguides to the trees of both these countries.
More direct conservation action is achieved through our Millennium Seed Bank Partnerships in tropical Africa. The MSB is active in eight countries within our remit (see summary report for rgw MSB Team for more detailed information). Seedbanking for ex-situ conservation has focused upon endangered, endemic and economically useful species. As the MSB moves into phase II, the focus of our work is now shifting more towards utilization of these seed resources in in-situ conservation and restoration work and promotion of growth and sustainable harvesting of useful native species (see Useful Plants Project).
With food security and sustainable use of resources (key issues in the drylands of Africa), our work aims to highlight links between plant diversity and human livelihoods. The RBG Kew-led Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) is the world’s most comprehensive online source of information on useful plants in the tropical drylands. The SEPASAL nodes established in Kenya and Namibia, both completed in 2008, were a successful means of increasing the speed of collation and provision of data on useful plants, as well as greatly increased availability and use of data within sub-Saharan Africa. In total, uses of over 900 species were documented in Kenya (2002-2008) and over 1150 species in Namibia (2004-2008). Species information downloads from SEPASAL for the period 2006-2011 numbered over 23,500, peaking at 5,683 in 2007. A continuation of the node network is planned for the future, although this is dependent upon the development of more robust, user-friendly editing software, currently being addressed as part of RBG Kew’s Science and Horticulture Systems Review. RBG Kew is also a major contributor to the Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA) programme, hosting the UK officer (until 2009) and contributing to a number of the most important PROTA volumes including Timbers and Medicinal Plants. The MSB-led Useful Plants Project, which in Africa currently operates in Botswana, Mali, Kenya and South Africa, works with in-country partners to promote domestication of low input, well-adapted local species in preference to use of exotics. Building on inventories of useful wild and semi-domesticated plants (through, for example, SEPASAL), the Useful Plants Project has so far been engaged in seed and data collection, development of germination and propagation methodologies and field based trials of new species in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, with the aim to eventually enhance this effort to landscape scale planting of newly domesticated species.
Work of the Drylands:Africa Team directly contributes to Breathing Planet Programme strategies 1, 2, and 3, but also significantly is increasingly contributing to 4, 5 and 6.
Conferences and workshops
1) XVIIIth AETFAT (Association pour l'Etude Taxonomique de la Flore d'Afrique Tropicale) Congress, Yaoundé, Cameroon, February-March 2007 – multiple talks/posters presented including:
- Darbyshire, I., Saltmarsh, A. & Malcolm, P. Application of the Aluka African Plants resource to African Flora projects. (oral presentation)
- Ghazanfar, S.A. Distribution and conservation of Scrophulariaceae in tropical East Africa.
- Goyder, D. Asclepiad biogeography: insights from analysis of major biomes.
- Grace, O.M., Malombe, I., Davis, S.D., Pearce, T.R. & Simmonds, M.S.J. Identifying priority species in dryland Kenya for conservation in the Millennium Seed Bank Project.
- Harris, T. Mountains of Mozambique; initial findings from Mt Chiperone and plans for further montane surveys.
- Lindsay, D. Improving the targeting of seed collecting programmes for ex situ conservation.
- Timberlake, J. Progress with Flora Zambesiaca.
2) XIXth AETFAT Congress, Antananarivo, Madagascar, April 2010 – multiple talks / posters presented including:
- Harris, T. Rare and localised species of Schistostephium (Compositae)
- Timberlake, J.,Goyder, D. J., Crawford, F., Burrows, J. & S., Clarke, G. P., Müller, T. & Matimele, H.Coastal dry forests in northern Mozambique.
- Timberlake, J. Progress with Flora Zambesiaca.
3) African Studies Association, UK Conference, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, September 2006.
- Davis, S.D. & Adeka, R. The Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL). Making data available for sustainable use: experience in Kenya.
4) Five workshops on plant redlisting attended under the East African Plant Redlisting Authority, between February 2007 and September 2011, held in Dar es Salaam (one), Arusha (one) and Nairobi (three); 1100 IUCN Red List assessments prepared so far.
The Team’s work contributes directly to six of the GSPC targets: 1, 2, 8, 12, 13 and 14. We also contribute along with the Sustainable Uses Group in the Jodrell’s Useful Plants Project to the UN Millennium Development Goals targets 1 and 7 and the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), themes 1 and 2.
Science Team Leader: Iain Darbyshire
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