SABAP1 Legacy paper - The seminal legacy of the Southern African by sdsdfqw21


									82                                                      South African Journal of Science 104, March/April 2008                    Research in Action

                                                                                                               tion, confirming the status of the Atlas as a
The seminal legacy of the Southern                                                                             standard reference.
                                                                                                                 It is worth noting that the Atlas did not
African Bird Atlas Project                                                                                     provide information on distribution
                                                                                                               alone. It presented important new infor-
                         a                             a*                         b,c                          mation and analyses on the seasonality of
J.A. Harrison , L.G. Underhill                               and P. Barnard                                    breeding, and the direction and seasonality
                                                                                                               of migration. The Atlas has therefore
                                                                                                               proved an essential reference for all re-
     HE FIRST SOUTHERN AFRICAN BIRD ATLAS                     projects globally. 5 It was a lengthy            search involving these fundamental as-
T    Project was launched in 1986 and gath-
     ered bird distribution data from six
countries of southern Africa. The project
                                                              endeavour, but then it did cover six
                                                              southern African countries (Botswana,
                                                              Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swazi-
                                                                                                               pects of avian biology.

                                                                                                               The SABAP database
culminated with the publication of The Atlas
of Southern African Birds in 1997. The database               land, and Zimbabwe) and it was the first           The SABAP database has been used in
generated by the project, seven million bird                  time a biological survey had been                various ways for a variety of purposes.
distribution records, has been widely used by                 attempted on anything like that scale in         Four main user constituencies can be
four groups: environmental consultants (for                   Africa. Indeed, SABAP remains one of the         identified: environmental consultants,
example, to locate electricity transmission                   largest completed projects of its kind,          conservationists, research scientists and
lines), conservationists (planning conserva-                  even globally.                                   birders. Environmental consultants form
tion strategies), research scientists (especially
                                                                SABAP delivered two material products:         by far the largest group in terms of
macro-ecologists and biogeographers) and
birders (ecotourism materials). By 2007, the                  a database of seven million peer-reviewed        number of requests for data. More than
database had spawned 50 research publica-                     distribution records, and a two-volume,          200 requests for data from this group have
tions and eight Ph.D.s and master’s degrees.                  1500-page publication which presented            been serviced by the Animal Demogra-
These products are a tribute to the more than                 the results of the project, and much more        phy Unit (ADU) in the past 10 years. The
5000 ‘citizen scientists’, who gathered the                   besides.4 As with all scientific information,    most frequent user has been the national
bulk of the data. The atlas concept has been                  the value of these products can be assessed      electricity supplier Eskom; this utility com-
extended to frogs, reptiles, spiders and butter-              only in terms of the use to which they           pany uses data on the distribution of cer-
flies; a second bird atlas started in 2007 and
                                                              have been put and the degree to which            tain key species in planning mitigation
will, for example, facilitate knowledge of the
impact of environmental change on birds. The                  they have exerted an influence on further        measures for its power transmission lines.
South African National Biodiversity Institute                 scientific endeavour and societal aware-         Data needed by environmental consul-
is playing a lead role in initiating these new                ness of scientific issues. This essay reflects   tants are typically lists of species, and their
projects.                                                     on that use, as well as the impact that          relative abundance, for specific grid cells.
                                                              SABAP has had on scientific activity in the        As groups, conservationists and research
Twenty-one years have passed since the
                                                              region.                                          scientists overlap to some degree, so it is
Southern African Bird Atlas Project
                                                                                                               perhaps more instructive to speak in
(SABAP) was launched in 1986, Africa’s
                                                              The bird atlas publication                       terms of the type of use. The uses can be
biggest public-participation biodiversity
                                                                In principle it should be easy to obtain a     summarized as conservation planning,
database. In July 2007, South Africa
                                                              measure of the use to which a publication        ecological/biogeographical studies, and
launched a follow-up project: SABAP2. It
                                                              has been put by consulting citation indi-        single-species ecological studies. The
is opportune, therefore, to evaluate the
                                                              ces. However, the bird atlas is a multi-         last-mentioned data need is largely met
legacy of SABAP1 and ask whether all the
                                                              authored work (62 authors and seven              by the atlas publication,4 so the number of
excitement and enthusiasm generated by
                                                              editors) and it explicitly recommended           requests for more detailed information on
the first project, as well as its cost, was
                                                              citation by chapter. Most citations there-       single species has been relatively small.
justified. This article complements two
                                                              fore refer to specific chapters and species        On the other hand, macro-ecology and
global reviews of bird atlases, which
                                                              accounts by the names of their specific          conservation planning typically involve
respectively considered methodological
                                                              authors, making a comprehensive mea-             analyses of data sets spanning many or all
developments, based on 411 bird atlases,1
                                                              sure of citation frequency practically           species in a group. Almost all the South
and the applicatioins to which bird atlas
                                                              impossible. It would be true to say, how-        African provincial nature conservation
data had been put, based on 272 bird
                                                              ever, that most papers dealing with the          agencies and three national institutions in
                                                              ecology or distribution of a species of          the five other participating countries
  SABAP ran its course from 1986 to 1997,
                                                              bird in southern Africa has, since 1997,         have acquired or further developed the
and gathered data across the region on
distribution and abundance of 932 bird                        cited The Atlas of Southern African Birds.4      bird atlas data sets for their specific use
                                                              For example, 170 full-length papers (on          in internal research and conservation
species in the region.3,4 This was accom-
                                                              any topic) were published in the journal         planning. For example, the Namibian
plished mainly by mobilizing an amateur
                                                              Ostrich between 1999 and March 2006. Of          Avifaunal Database, a multifaceted bio-
army of more than five thousand bird-
                                                              these, 60 cited the Atlas, making it the         diversity database built around the coun-
watchers. These ‘citizen scientists’ have
                                                              most cited reference in the journal over         try ’s atlas contributions to SABAP, is
made a major contribution to bird atlas
                                                              this period, with the sixth edition of           one of Namibia’s strongest biodiversity
  Animal Demography Unit, Department of Zoology, Uni-         Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa6 in second     information systems (
versity of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa.
  Global Change Research Group, South African National        place with 44 citations. The seventh edi-        programmes/biodiversity/infosys.htm).
Biodiversity Institute, Private Bag X7, Claremont 7735,
South Africa.
                                                              tion of Roberts’ 7 – a comprehensive hand-         In South Africa, in addition to provincial
  DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick       book in which the Atlas distribution maps        analyses, there have been national analy-
Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.
*Author for correspondence.
                                                              are recycled – has about 900 references to       ses, the most important of which is proba-
E-mail:                               the Atlas,8 more than to any other publica-      bly the South African National Spatial
Research in Action                           South African Journal of Science 104, March/April 2008                                         83

Biodiversity Assessment (NSBA), an                ness of birds and their attendant conser-       Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC),
initiative commissioned by the national           vation issues has not been measured             the Birds in Reserves Project (BIRP),
Department of Environmental Affairs               across society, nor would it be easy to do      and Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts
and Tourism.9,10 The NSBA provides a              so. Nevertheless, there is unanimity            (CAR).40 These three projects are ongoing
broad framework for the prioritization of         within birding, ornithology and conserva-       and have each accumulated more that 10
conservation effort in the country. This          tion circles that SABAP had an enormous         years of invaluable biodiversity monitor-
major analysis used seven South African           influence on birders and others in South        ing data.
biodiversity databases of 14 originally           Africa and beyond. There were more than
considered for use in the terrestrial com-        5000 direct contributors to SABAP. In           Further atlases and a new era
ponent of the analysis.10 Of the seven            addition to these, many citizens were             Beyond bird-related projects, the success
eventually chosen, because they were              aware of the project, especially rural land-    of SABAP provided encouragement to
sufficiently comprehensive, one was the           owners, who frequently allowed atlasers         other specialists that comparable projects
SABAP database. Another was the frog              to explore their properties. This aware-        could be successfully organized for their
atlas database, which we discuss below.           ness on the part of landowners alone            taxon groups, and that they could bring to
  Two publications of direct importance           probably had a salutary effect on their         their disciplines the benefits of such a
to the national and regional conservation         sense of their role as stewards of the          broad-scope survey. The Protea Atlas
of birds are The Important Bird Areas of          region’s biodiversity.                          Project (1991–2001) was the first to be
Southern Africa11 and the Eskom Red Data            Many birders testify that atlasing be-        launched, followed by the Southern
Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and        came, for them, a more rewarding form of        African Frog Atlas Project (SAFAP; 1995–
Swaziland.12 Both of these analyses drew          their hobby because it had a clear and a        2004)41 and, more recently, the Southern
heavily on information in the SABAP               larger purpose. Both the concept and the        African Reptile Conservation Assessment
database.                                         activities of the atlas helped them to see      (SARCA; 2005–09) and South African
  Among macro-ecologists, local and               birds and their hobby in the context of         National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA;
international interest in the SABAP data-         broader ecological issues. The need to          1997– ). An atlas project on butterflies, the
base has led to an impressive list of             identify species positively so that one         Southern African Butterfly Conservation
publications which acknowledge SABAP              could record as many as possible in grid        Assessment (SABCA; 2007–10), was
as a source of essential data. These include      cells – the sampling units of the atlas – be-   launched in 2007.
papers on the impact of specific local            came a strong incentive to hone identifi-         All of these projects are closely linked to
environmental trends on birds,13–15 theo-         cation skills. The imperative to record         the recent transformation of South Africa’s
retical approaches to reserve selection,16–21     comprehensive lists of species encour-          National Botanical Institute (NBI) into the
and analyses of macro-ecological and              aged a greater awareness of species’            South African National Biodiversity
biogeographical phenomena and con-                preferred habitats because it would be in       Institute (SANBI).42 Through partner-
cepts.22–32 (For a list, currently of 50 publi-   those habitats that the species were likely     ships between the Animal Demography
cations using the SABAP database, see the         to be observed and ‘ticked’.                    Unit and other specialist institutions
ADU website at In par-             Since SABAP there has been a quantum
                                                                   ,                              with SANBI, these atlases will contribute
ticular, the use of bird atlas data combined      leap in skill and professionalism among         essential biodiversity information to help
with focused field surveys of threatened          the rank and file of amateur birders,           SANBI monitor and report to government
or endemic species has allowed the esti-          making them an even more valuable               on the state of biodiversity in the country.
mation of population sizes, strengthening         human resource for data collection than         SANBI is the lead organization imple-
the link between atlasing and red-listing         they were before. This bodes well for           menting the National Environmental
processes in biodiversity conservation.22         SABAP2.                                         Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA),
  By 2006, eight postgraduate students              Perhaps the greatest positive influence       as well as supporting government in im-
had completed theses based on analyses            of the atlas on the birding community was       plementing the Convention on Biological
of the SABAP database.32–39 These students        its demonstration that even amateur             Diversity (CBD). To do this most quickly,
were at five universities (three in South         birders – as opposed to specialist bird         SANBI has prioritized the online publica-
Africa and two in the U.K.), and explored         ringers and ornithologists – could make a       tion of essential biodiversity data, such as
the database from a variety of disciplines        significant contribution to science, in-        atlas information, to support planning,
and perspectives, further emphasizing its         deed, that they could become ‘citizen           policy-making, decision making and re-
richness.                                         scientists’. Not only did the simple yet        search by a variety of users. These activi-
  Birders and landowners have occasion-           scientific methods of SABAP give many           ties include sound spatial development
ally accessed bird atlas data to use as a         birders a first introduction to how science     planning, state-of-the-environment re-
guide to birding in specific areas, and           works, but the scientific output from the       porting, and conservation planning
for the development of eco-tourism                project showed how small contributions          based on the prediction and detection of
materials. These uses were, however,              could be amalgamated into a meaningful          responses by species and ecosystems to
discouraged to some extent by the initial         and impressive whole. This new percep-          environmental change.
application of data-extraction fees. We           tion of their role as citizen scientists          Collectively, the atlas projects represent
expect that these types of use will increase      helped many birders make the transition         a new era in biodiversity field research in
now that the bird atlas data are increas-         from the relatively straightforward activ-      the region.
ingly available online, free of charge            ity of atlasing to the more challenging           A new bird atlas project, SABAP2, was
at and www.adu.               requirements of bird monitoring projects.       launched in 2007. While predictions are                                            It was this pool of available skill and         risky, we venture to predict that SABAP2
                                                  enthusiasm that the Animal Demography           will eclipse SABAP1 in terms of scientific
Public awareness and participation                Unit and BirdLife South Africa tapped           impact. SABAP2 will be the first time in
 The impact of SABAP on public aware-             into by launching, in chronological order,      Africa that a survey of this magnitude has
84                                                      South African Journal of Science 104, March/April 2008                                         Research in Action

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