National Museums of Kenya (2016)

Assessment of Lepidoptera Pollinator Species Diversity in East Africa

Project Details

Grantee Organization: National Museums of Kenya
Grant Amount: $264,200
Contact: Esther N. Kioko
Contact Email: ekioko 'atsign'


In East Africa, a majority of important food and cash crops rely on insect pollination, as do wild flora. Several groups of insects are important as pollinators, including bees, flies, butterflies, and beetles, yet nearly all available studies on insect pollination in Africa are focused solely on bees, particularly honey bees. Data on the diversity, abundance, distribution and trends of wild pollinators lags, which precludes assessment of their importance to agricultural production and maintenance of natural ecosystems. Indeed, no red list assessments have been conducted for insect pollinators in East Africa. The need for this information is urgent, as recent studies in Europe and America have shown declines in wild pollinator abundance and diversity, suggesting East Africa might face similar conservation concerns.

Key Objectives and Activities

This project will address these knowledge gaps focusing on three families of Lepidoptera: the hawkmoths (Sphingidae), the skipper butterflies (Hesperiidae), and the swallowtail butterflies (Papilionidae) in the Eastern Arc Mountains in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Mabira Forest in Uganda. In addition to field sampling of these key ecosystems, and surrounding agro-ecosystems, the project will digitize Lepidoptera collections in museums in the three countries.

Planned Outputs

  1. Three workshops, one in each of the project countries. The first, in Kenya, will build consensus with institutional partners on goals, protocols, and roles, the second and third, in Tanzania and Uganda, respectively) will facilitate exchange of knowledge and technology and build synergy among the teams in each country to achieve the project goal of conserving Lepidoptera pollinator species in the East Africa region.
  2. Field sampling expeditions during multiple seasons resulting in 8,000 new records (to be digitized) and an inventory of plant-pollinator interactions observed during sampling.
  3. Training for 20 technical staff (2 from each partner institution, and 14 from other institutions in each participating country) on data collection and digitization.
  4. Digitization of 50,000 specimen records (22,600 from Kenya, 22,000 from Uganda, and 6,387 from Tanzania)
  5. Publication of pollinator data through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
  6. Training and support for three Master’s students.
  7. A public exhibition in each country to disseminate information on pollinators, including brochures, checklists, etc.

Planned Outcomes

  • The networks established during the project facilitate future opportunities for collaboration on other projects.
  • Update and increased use of regional reference collections of Lepidoptera.
  • Applied use of improved understanding of plant-pollinator interactions, for instance in decision making about pesticide application.
  • Inclusion of pollinators as a component of biological diversity by wildlife and environmental agencies.
  • Increased regional technical capacity in digitization and Lepidoptera taxonomy.
  • Web resources for sharing information on regional Lepidoptera pollinator species diversity and importance.

Last Updated: November 21st, 2017

Results to Date

  • Project contracts were developed and signed by the National Museum of Kenya, Makerere University and the National Museum of Tanzania in January 2017.
  • The inception workshop occurred in March 2017, and was attended by 36 participants, with representation from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
  • Field sampling in Year 1 focused on the Eastern Arc Mountain Forests, Taita Hills Forests, and East Usambara Mountains. Over 500 hawkmoth and butterfly specimens were collected during sampling.
  • Three Master’s students have developed and begun work on projects relating to pollinator biodiversity.
  • Over 1,400 specimens from the Makerere University Zoology Museum’s Lepidoptera collection have been digitized.

Lessons Learned

The National Museums of Kenya, mandated to conserve and uphold sustainable utilization of the country’s natural heritage, is a recognized leader in heritage management in the East African region and has undertaken and led several projects in the region on biodiversity conservation. Though NMK has made some strides in matters of biodiversity conservation, the taxonomy of pollinators, mapping of pollinators based on the insect reference collections that it houses, still needs to be done for the pollinators to survive and thrive in the face of many challenges. Assessment of Lepidoptera pollinator species diversity data is a priority to address the scantiness of information in this area, however, challenges have arisen for the project. Specifically, the project experienced some delays in the procurement of equipment and hardware and unpredictable weather delayed field work in Tanzania. This has led to delays of digitization work and a rescheduling of field work to begin in the middle of June.

Over the course of the project, new opportunities to incorporate stakeholders have arisen. Specifically, after the first field visits to the Taita Hills and East Usambara, it became apparent that an opportunity existed to involve local butterfly farmers. Many farmers are conversant with butterflies in their regions, and project personnel see an emerging opportunity of using them to assist in collecting field data and voucher specimens. Training of local farmers in project collection procedures has already begun. For example, Clivon, a butterfly farmer in Taita Hills, attended the first regional training workshop and joined the NMK team during field sampling. Since then, he has been able to send butterfly specimens to the NMK through courier.


Project Director Biography

Esther Kioko is a senior research scientist and heads the Zoology Department at the National Museums of Kenya. She holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural Entomology, from the Kenyatta University, with research undertaken at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and field research in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Additionally, she holds a postgraduate Diploma in Applied Insect Taxonomy from the University of Wales, UK. Kioko has coordinated a number of multi-institutional projects including: Assessment of the Insects as food sources for improving food security, rural livelihoods and adaptation to climate change (2011- 2015, funded by Kenya’s National Council for Science and Technology); and Developing incentives for community participation in forest conservation through the use of commercial insects in Kenya (2004-2009, funded by Global Environment Facility). She leads the NMK Zoology Department’s collection digitization process for the over 3 million specimens housed in the department’s six sections. She is also coordinating the NMK’s Sino-Africa Joint Research Center (SAJOREC) funded project on the Zoological Survey of Kenya.

Notes from JRS

This grant award is among the first in our Pollinators program and will help be an anchor investment to future projects and networks in related species.  The National Museums of Kenya is a long-time partner for JRS and our grantees and we anticipate harvesting the fruits of a long relationship and prior investments in technical infrastructure and staff development.  We are grateful to see a partnership among three strong institutions and with lead women scientists and believe these ties will help mobilize data and foster partnerships in the future.  A challenge in this project is to create a coherent relationship among the efforts in multiple countries and between the digitized collections data and the new field data in order to establish baseline data sets that can be applied by stakeholders to diverse subjects such as climate change, land-use, plant-pollinator interactions and agricultural practice.

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