Working for birds in Africa

Groundbreaking work will help Africa’s biodiversity combat climate change

Date posted: 
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pioneering research to help biodiversity survive the impacts of climate change across Africa has been announced at a workshop in Kigali, Rwanda and hosted by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife in Rwanda) on behalf of the BirdLife Africa Partnership. The work brings together the BirdLife Africa Partnership, RSPB, Durham University (UK), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The project has mapped the current and future distributions of all bird species on mainland Africa by using climate change models to determine the distance and direction of shifts for each species in the future. A particular emphasis of the work is understanding how well the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) network in Africa can sustain the continent’s bird with future climate change. Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa, said “There are very few plans to protect biodiversity from the effects of climate change anywhere in the world. BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations.”

Dr Steve Willis, a lecturer at Durham University’s Environmental Change Research Group, and a leading expert on climate change modelling, said “We have modelled the possible future distributions of all Africa’s birds and the results are worrying – many species are projected to suffer a reduction in range size and a small proportion may go extinct completely." More detailed analysis is being carried out within the Albertine Rift region of Africa to identify actions that will increase the resilience of the IBA network to future climate change.

The workshop in Rwanda brings together governments, academic institutions, NGOs and local community from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are included within the Albertine Rift mountains complex. Dr Willis commented: “In the Albertine Rift, our models project that species will move upwards altitudinally, and clearly the higher up a mountain you go, the less land area there is. We need to start acting now to prevent these unique species disappearing altogether.”

“The main challenge is to try to protect the birds where they are now and at the same time to help them to follow a shifting climate. We need to start planning their conservation in areas where they currently do not even occur. The problems are huge but we cannot simply sit back and watch our natural heritage disappear”, Dr Arinaitwe added.

Important Bird Areas are essential for the livelihoods of many people in Africa, and are the backbone of the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for African economies. Most of these areas are also key reservoirs for water and pollinators and so their protection is an important component of adaptation to climate change in other fields such as agriculture, demography, energy, and urbanisation.

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