Climate change is among the greatest threats to pollinators worldwide. However, the understanding of the impacts of climate change on tropical pollinators is limited and especially so in sub‐ Saharan Africa. Tropical species are predicted to be sensitive to climate change because they have narrower ecological niches and elevational ranges than temperate species. Butterflies and birds are two of the more important flower‐pollinating taxa in montane forests in Africa. In the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, nearly a third of the butterfly species found there are flower‐pollinators. Two families of birds, Nectariniidae (sunbirds, ﬂowerpeckers, 11 genera 88 species) and Zosteropidae (white‐eyes, 2 genera 19 species) are major pollinators and found in the Eastern Arc Mountains. Pollinators here provide essential ecosystem services to local communities; 73% of their known food plants by species are used by humans as medicine, food, or building materials.
This project will assess climate effects upon flower‐pollinating butterflies, birds, and bees in montane forests at a landscape level by constructing and updating climatic, elevational range and demographic databases. Using these databases, the project will assess historical elevational range shifts in pollinating butterfly and bird species in the Uluguru Mountains and Usambara Mountains, and identify the extent of climate change’s impacts on flower-pollinating bird species. The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) will develop an open‐access web portal on the TAWIRI website where climatic, elevational range, and demographic databases are freely available using an Open Access database hosted by TAWIRI. The findings of the project and database will be shared with the public and decision-makers to inform future conservation actions.
Key Objectives and Activities
Develop and publish web‐based databases by February 2019 to assess impact of climate change on flower‐pollinating butterflies and birds through digitizing historical pollinator records and conducting new elevational transects in the Eastern Arc Mountains.
Training and capacity development in web-based database design, management, and analysis.
Outreach and communications to project partners and conservation decision-makers to inform the prioritization of forest connectivity protection in the Eastern Arc forests.
Video Progress Update, May 2020
With COVID-19 restricting travel and meeting with our grantees, JRS invited our projects to submit a short update for the JRS Board of Trustees. Though intended for an internal JRS audience, we loved these videos and share them here with permission. Enjoy!
Develop and update baseline elevational range database for flower-pollinating butterflies and birds.
Publish ~600 geo-referenced records and 3,000 new MARK input files to the web-portal by February 2020.
Train technicians from TAWIRI, Tanzanian Commission on Science and Technology, Usambara Field Studies Centre, and University of Dar Es Salaam in butterfly and bird survey methods and database inputs.
Accessible educational materials, publication of results in a special issue of the Arc Journal by December 2020, and workshops with partners to share findings.
Improved understanding of the effects of climate change on the wild pollinators of Eastern Arc Mountains is required for planning future forest conservation that will protect this vital ecosystem service. Through the development of the web-portal, the historical records and new scientific records of range shifts will be made available to the public and decision-makers. In the process, technicians will be trained on all aspects of data collection, database development, and data management, to sustain the project. TAWIRI anticipates that the findings from the project will be used for identifying and conserving important forest linkages in the Eastern Arc Mountains.
Results to Date
The Bionuwai Portal has been established on the TAWIRI website to host open access pollinators and other biodiversity data.
Historical elevational range data for 50 flower-pollinating bird species digitized and uploaded to the database.
Butterfly elevational surveys have been completed and data digitized.
Bird elevational survey during the cold season has been completed.
Year one and year two mark-recapture surveys and nest survival surveys of flower-pollinating bird species have been completed.
1,700 historical and current mark-recapture MARK input records for flower-pollinating bird species have been digitized.
An African sunbird-pollinated food plants dataset has been uploaded to Dryad. This dataset is embargoed and will be released when the associated article is published.
One scientific manuscript has been published and two others submitted for publication.
Five technicians at TAWIRI and UFSC have been trained to digitize historical elevational range data for birds and butterflies.
Two technicians at TAWIRI have been trained to upload digitized data into the portal.
Six senior staff from TAWIRI, CAWM, and UDSM have been trained to generate metrics of elevational range shifts, MARK input files, and calculate vital rates.
Six technicians from TAWIRI and UFSC have been trained to conduct elevational transects and manage butterfly and avian field records.
Flyers describing the project have been produced and distributed.
An MoU between TAWIRI and Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) has been developed.
The historical butterfly data we planned to use as the baseline for an assessment of climate change impacts on butterfly pollinators had insufficient elevation data and were not able to be used for this project. The elevation data generated from this project will now serve as the first important baseline. Weather conditions in the Usambara and Uluguru have also posed a challenge, with some fieldwork rescheduled or extended due to prolonged rain restricting access to field sites. The weather conditions at Uluguru in particular are very localized and general weather patterns and predictions for the region proved to be unreliable. However, the unexpected weather challenges did have a silver lining and created an opportunity to document butterfly food availability.
Project Director Biography
Dr. Devolent Mtui has over 10 years of work experience as a Wildlife researcher for TAWIRI. Between 2005 and 2009, she collected and identified more than 200 butterfly species in Kihansi Gorge, a portion of Eastern Arc forests Mountains. Among the collection was a new species described as Charaxes mtuiae (Entomologia Africana, 2017; 22: 19 – 30). Through TAWIRI and National Environmental Management Council, she received funding from the GEF to assess the status and distribution of C. mtuiae. Dr. Mtui holds Bachelor degree from University of Dar-es-Salaam, MSc in Conservation Biology from University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Management from University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dr. Mtui has also expertise in remote sensing and GIS, and published 6 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Notes from JRS
Although there is widespread consensus that climate change effects nearly all life on earth, knowledge of the habitat shifts for pollinators in East Africa is limited. Planning for the future of conservation will be best informed when climate change is accounted for in the decision-making. The importance of pollinators in ecosystem services is appreciated, but poorly understood. TAWIRI, a government research institute, plays an important role in conservation in Tanzania through its established relationships to decision-makers and other government bodies as well as its ties to other research institutions. This project will further strengthen local Tanzanian capacity for data collection and database management. The TAWIRI team has elected to create their own online database and we will eagerly watch for data publications from other scientists and projects.