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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 July 2014
 
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 Our knowledge of the distribution of many African mammal species is based on either outdated or unverified information.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
The project team has been networking widely with scientists, conservation professionals and wildlife authorities across Africa via email and through scientific conferences and meetings. Through these collaborations, the project team has collected more than 210,000 mammal distribution records from biologists into the MammalMAP database. Through awareness-building on multiple media platforms, MammalMAP was able to solicit some 14,165 records from citizen scientists by the end of 2013, a tripling of that number from the start of 2013.
 
The project team will be conducting in-depth analyses of the dataset in the near future. However, a real hindrance to these analyses is that, because there is no standardized protocol for the collection of mammal distribution data (either temporally or geographically), comparing data across seasons, years, or regions becomes impossible. These kinds of comparisons provide the most useful information for conservation, and so best-practice (or even, best-possible) data collection protocols need to be designed as a matter of urgency. To that end, the project team is looking not only to bring people together to design such a protocol, but also to interview and employ an IT developer for MammalMAP. The developer will be responsible for website redesign, automation of data analysis, development of tools to extract data, and establishing connections to automatically push all shareable Africa-wide data to all relevant international biodiversity databases.
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