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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

MammalMAP: the African Mammal Atlas Project

PI: Les Underhill (University of Cape Town), with co-PI Robert Millar (University of Pretoria)
U.S. Partners: Walter Jetz (Yale University) and Robert Guralnik (University of Colorado Boulder)
Project Dates: August 2013 to May 2015
Africa is home to an incredible abundance and diversity of life. However, our ability to protect this biodiversity, particularly in the context of global climate change and increasing anthropogenic pressures, hinges on a foundation of knowledge of the current geographical distribution of biodiversity across the African continent. Our knowledge of the distribution of many African mammal species is based on either outdated or unverified information. This compromises our ability to effectively manage and conserve some of Africa’s most charismatic biodiversity. To address this information paucity, MammalMAP (the African Mammal Atlas Project) – an initiative of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa – aims to generate 21st Century range maps for all African mammal species.Through collaborations with scientists, conservation organizations, wildlife authorities and citizen scientists across Africa, all reliable evidence of current mammal occurrence is consolidated into a single open-access digital database. The database software automatically generates online distribution maps that are instantly visible and searchable. The information within this database is crucial for species and landscape conservation policies and provides an excellent platform for educating the public about the challenges facing Africa's biodiversity. This project involves data sharing and collaboration between MammalMAP and the Map of Life, an online biodiversity integration and visualization infrastructure project headed by the U.S. partners, Prof. Walter Jetz and Prof. Robert Guralnik. The collaboration will also facilitate the integration into the Map of Life database of 15 million records of southern African biodiversity distribution data that are currently curated by UCT.
The information within this database is crucial for species and landscape conservation policies and provides an excellent platform for educating the public about the challenges facing Africa's biodiversity. The work relates to the primary development goals of conserving biodiversity within the context of habitat change and climate change, preventing species extinctions, sustainably managing landscapes, and advancing and disseminating scientific knowledge. In terms of science and technology innovation and education, this research is expected to promote and facilitate interdisciplinary and international collaboration amongst scientists and conservation practitioners, with potential benefits to the advancement of conservation science.  Furthermore, both the project input stage (data collection) and output stage (data dissemination) offer interactive, dynamic, and widely applicable education tools suitable for both the formal and informal education sectors. In addition to the informal education of citizen scientists involved in the project, formal training will be provided to project interns in mammal taxonomy, statistical ecology, and conservation education. During the course of the project, through collaboration with teachers, NGOs, and government, this research team aims to repackage MammalMAP data into generic material suitable for lessons and projects for primary, secondary, and tertiary scholars across Africa.
Summary of Recent Activities
Research team visiting U.S. partner at Yale. Photo credit: Prof. Les Gordon Underhill
Over the summer, the research team continued working closely with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and SANBI on the Red-listing of mammals in South Africa and, during the last quarter, the MammalMAP mammal distribution in Africa database expanded to 488,690 records. The existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ADU and MoL was extended to cover all the ADU projects. This extension will enable greater collaboration between the two groups in the areas of data collection and analysis. The MoL is undertaking to use the ADU data to refine its area of extent maps, analysis of species on the African continent, and to allow access of their map layer services for integration into the ADU system and processes.

PI Les Underhill sent four research team members of the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) - Michael Brooks, Rene Navarro, Ian Engelbrecht and Dimitri Kambas to visit US partner Walter Jetz at Yale University during September-October. The team members attended workshop in New Haven where they explored and developed joint infrastructure and informatics tools which connected the ADU and Yale ‘Map of Life’ project efforts. During the workshop, an API (Application Programming Interface) which allows third parties to access the data systems at the ADU and extract data for their research and applications was developed and implemented.

In South Africa, the Animal Demography Unit organized three “Citizen Scientist Days” - one in Johannesburg, and two in Cape Town. These events dramatically increased awareness of the MammalMAP project. Tali Hoffman, who has guided MammalMAP through its early stages in the role of postdoctoral fellow, was appointed to a post at the Climate Change Institute of the University of Cape Town. She continues assisting with the management of the project, which is currently staffed by three interns. Les Underhill now directly provides overall leadership and direction.

In the next quarter the database for the mammal Red-listing Process including its maps will be analyzed in order to identify any database errors. The new MammalMAP website will also be launched.
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