BIOTA West Africa
BIOTA West Africa consists of ten subprojects that are part of the joint
project BIOTA AFRICA. Each of the three main BIOTA projects aims in its
subprojects --in exemplary, each other mutually complementing investigations--
- spatial and temporal patterns and
- functional roles of biodiversity in some of the most important African ecosystems.
The special focus in the upcoming main phase of the BMBF. s BIOLOG programme
will be on the anthropogenical change of biodiversity in recent times both in
its continent-wide impacts as well as its profound regional peculiarities.
The dramatic change is correlated with
- large scale habitat conversion and habitat destruction,
- with overuse and mismanagement of natural resources, but is also affected
- by the summed spectrum of singly much less spectacular human interferences
with the environment.
To design advanced management tools, it will be necessary to know the
status quo ante, compare it with the momentary situation and comprehend
the already detectable direct and indirect, immediate and long-term consequences of
the change on the ecological and socio-economic stage from the local to the sub-continental
scale in West Africa. Such tools will be better suited than any of the presently available
management measures for conserving the local and regional biodiversity and for preserving the ecosystems.
functional integrity. These scientifically designed tools should allow us to develop wiser and more sustainable
forms of use of both the remaining near-natural as well as converted ecosystems. These goals shall be reached
- by concentrating all the research forces on a limited geographical area (see Fig...),
- by posing convergent questions and
- by applying a harmonised methodology.
The closely aligned, co-operative and interdisciplinary research programme of BIOTA-West integrates among others the following research areas: remote sensing, meteorology, biogeography, botany (cross-cutting over different fields among those ethnobotany and archaeobotany), zoology (with strong emphasis on entomology, herpetology, chiropterology, and limnology), different subdisciplines of ecology, ethnology, archaeology, socio-economics.
Research localities and infrastructure
The studies of the Frankfurt-Group (W11) are executed in Burkina Faso and in Benin with their counterparts at the Universities of Ouagadougou and the Université National du Bénin. The main geographic focus within BIOTA-West is, however, on Côte d. Ivoire, with the Centre de Recherche en Ecologie (CRE, Université de Abobo Adjamé) and the Department of Botany at the Université de Cocody as the main counterpart institutions in the country. Here in Côte d. Ivoire, six of the eight projects working in the field are carrying out their empirical studies. During the first year the permanent Research Camp of the University of Würzburg (originally financed by the Volkswagen Foundation) has served as the already fully functioning infrastructural and spatial pivot, allowing some of the projects a flying start. In due course the newly constructed and now nearly completed permanent Ivoro-German Field Station in the Comoé National Park will replace the University of Würzburg Field Camp as one of our main infrastructural centres. This new research station will provide excellent working conditions for both, demanding field studies as well as ambitious laboratory research. The station is predominantly financed (1) by a single grant for the construction and most of the general technical and laboratory equipment by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, by (2) valuable contributions to the infrastructure by the BMBF in the framework of BIOTA West, and (3) by a long-term commitment to cover some of the basic running costs by the Free State of Bavaria and the University of Würzburg) will provide excellent working conditions for both, demanding field studies as well as ambitious laboratory research. Beside BIOTA-West also some of the BIOTA-East projects have already and will temporarily use this Research Station for comparative investigations. The rights and obligations of the co-operating parties have been stipulated in an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Côte d. Ivoire, dated March 3,1997.
The Comoé Research Station will allow the lodging and boarding of up to about twenty researchers at a given time. There will also be enough space and all the basic equipment in the laboratory building, to allow this number of active users to perform their research efficiently. Apart from the proper Research Station inside the Park an Information/Education Centre is being built at one of the entrances of the park. It will serve public relations and educational purposes in a very broad sense and on very different levels (from primary school level to advanced students and scientists) for both, visitors of the park and residents living in the Park. s wider vicinity. Through mediating education-adequate knowledge, with much valuable contributions expected of the BIOTA West projects, a widely lacking comprehension for the value of natural resources, for the vulnerability of the fragile web of life, the necessity of nature conservation and of a wise and sustainable use of natural resources shall be roused in the local population and far beyond.
The basic natural setting for BIOTA-West. s research
There is a steep climatic gradient prevalent along the north-south transect in the investigated part of West Africa (see map, Fig. x) between the arid southern fringes of the Sahara and the humid rain forests on the Atlantic Coast. This offers especially interesting research opportunities regarding a number of aspects of biodiversity alterations within the framework of anthropogenic global change. Comparative studies along this gradient within some of the BIOTA West. s subprojects will allow the retrospective understanding of local and regional changes as a consequence of previous natural climate variability within the passed millennia as well as predicting some probable changes in the future under anthropogenically altered conditions.
Understanding the natural background . a highly important objective
All the human-driven ecological changes will only be clearly identifiable against
- the background of the original patterns of biodiversity and against
- the dynamic processes in the respective ecosystem not yet under strong pressure of modern man.
Since the necessary previous knowledge, needed here, is not available at present for any of the investigated biomes, basic research requires most of the room in the preparatory phase of the first three years of BIOTA Africa in general and BIOTA West in particular. Such knowledge that
- cannot be acquired but by studying patterns and processes in least disturbed systems within protected areas,
will be unrenouncable to achieve the already mentioned very important aim of mitigating and eventually bringing to a halt further losses of biodiversity. Furthermore it is, in the long run, our aim to find recipes for enhancing and broadening the wise and sustainable use of organismal diversity where this seems to be compatible with a continued, not critically harmed functioning of the ecosystem and without further losses of diversity.
The efficacy of all the mentioned measurements shall be scrutinised via long-term monitoring. This monitoring shall also serve to detect further changes of biodiversity and to recognise their consequences at the earliest possible stage and help to clarify their causation. The latter, however, requires to distinguish natural environmental variability from anthropogenically caused alterations. All these tasks will never be achieved without a sound knowledge of the natural systems. structural and functional properties. Time is running out, we cannot continue to rely on a pure trial and error strategy.
Recognising and understanding biodiversity patterns on different spatial scales
BIOTA West is tackling its scientific problems on very different spatial scales . from the subcontinental to the regional, to the landscape and the more or less fine-grained local level. During the first three years (the preparatory phase that shall also serve the capacity building of our counterparts and also that in our own working groups) we strive among others
- to find patterns of biodiversity on the mentioned different spatial scales,
- to correlate these with other variables (e.g. climatic, edaphic, orographic, structural, temporal) and
- to observe short-term processes that influence biodiversity patterns and dynamical processes.
Already on the basis of such correlational data some modelling and upskaling on larger areas, that can only very punctually be checked by ground truthing, is possible. This holds especially true when considering what in some instances older data (e.g. former floristic inventories . see the Biomaps project . W03) and remote sensing are offering us as additional information. However, to eventually understand the true cause-effect relationship, which is always one of our final goals, experimental analyses are required (wherever principally possible and also within some always given practical limitations feasible). Such analyses have usually to be confined to small, exemplary spatial and temporal sectors of the systems and yet are very time-consuming until one is to reach really conclusive results. Therefore such studies could only be commenced and they will take their time and will certainly have to be extended far into the main phase of BIOLOG.
Achievements up to date
The project BIOTA West started in January 2001. Initially, however, most subprojects needed quite some time for the practical preparations, for forming or modifying their institutional links, establishing their infrastructure, etc., etc. In the meanwhile this phase has generally been completed in all 10 projects. Several subprojects have already starlet with their scientific work some months ago. The hitherto achieved results within all these subprojects are mentioned in the subsequently following short summaries . due to the very limited space, however, often only very sketchily.