Zambia’s National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan identified “inadequate biodiversity trend data” and “lack of capacity” as serious issues limiting the country’s ability to prioritize biodiversity investment and implement conservation strategies.
Bats account for an estimated 31 per cent of Zambian mammalian biodiversity and provide valuable ecosystem services, but their elusive behaviour and challenge of identifying cryptic species make them difficult to study. As a result, our understanding of bat distribution and ecology is poor compared to that for other taxa.
This project seeks to expand and improve data on Zambian Chiroptera in several areas. Morphological examination and molecular analysis will improve species identifications for about 500 specimens. The project team will collate and cross-reference more than 900 records from other museums and previous research against existing GBIF-mediated data and prepare occurrence records from around 1,000 pre-existing and verified bat acoustic calls.
Enhancing the baseline data for this important mammalian order will inform and improve the work of researchers and policy-makers responsible for research conservation strategies, priorities and management plans in Zambia.
An initial meeting was held with involved partners to kick-start the project by outlining future activities and detailed plans. To assist with the smooth running of the project, two research assistants were recruited and have been collating literature on Zambian bats and helping to prepare
distribution maps for the different bat species.
In order to expand and improve Zambian bat data, several biodiversity training workshops have already taken place. A training workshop on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Molecular methods was held in Porto, Portugal in December 2017 for the project team, with training being provided by Bats without Borders and the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO). A training workshop on Biodiversity Data Mobilisation was held in January 2018 at the Livingstone Museum for the project team, other staff and a member of staff from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, to disseminate knowledge gained at the BID workshop in South Africa. Another workshop on bat identification and taxonomy was held in January 2018 at the Livingstone Museum for the project team and other staff members with training provided by the Harrison Institute and Bats without Borders. During the workshop the records for some of the specimens were taxonomically updated. To better integrate data digitization efforts using GBIF standards, a Capacity Enhancement Workshop on Biodiversity Data Mobilisation was held in Cape Town covering digitization, data quality and data cleaning.
In addition, the project co-ordinator attended the BID organised workshop on Biodiversity Data Mobilisation held in Cape Town, South Africa in December 2017 which has helped in strengthening links to similar projects and contacts in the region.
During the start of 2018 the team have been checking the specific identities of bat specimens held in the Livingstone Museum collection using methodological methods and reference materials. Tissue samples from almost all the bat specimens have been extracted with molecular analysis to further confirm the specific identities of the specimens. Data relating to the bat specimens in the collection has also been georeferenced and cleaned in preparation for publication. As a key part of the BID community, an organised workshop on Data Use for Decision Making held in Cape Town, South Africa was attended by the project co-ordinator bringing new contacts and opportunities for future collaboration. The project team have progressed with georeferencing of the Livingstone Museum Bat Collection as well as cleaning the data which has now been published. A data publishing agreement has been discussed with the South African Biodiversity Institute which should allow more data to be published through this IPT.
5 institutions from across the world had unpublished occurrence records of Zambian bats which they sent and gave the project permission to publish. Furthermore, occurrence records of Zambian bats were extracted from literature sources. These data were georeferenced, cleaned, transformed, and published through SANBI in November 2018. A research student from the University of Stirling provided data on bat occurrence records which the project cleaned and transformed to be published in February 2019.
173 specimens of the tissue samples sent for molecular analysis were processed through a metabarcoding approach. From these, 29 species were successfully identified. Only about 50% of the samples could be determined to species level which emphasize the need to pursue cataloging and to build molecular reference libraries for African bats. An atlas of Zambian bats could not be finalized by the end of the project due to delays in publishing occurrence data but is on its way.
Two training workshops in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were held in Livingstone and Kitwe (Zambia) from January to February 2019 where 24 people were trained from three institutions.
The outcomes of the project are 3 published occurrence datasets with a total of 2,338 records, the start of creating an atlas of Zambian bats, people trained in several skills (GIS, data use, biodiversity data mobilization, and basic molecular methods and bat identification and taxonomy), +400 literature records on Zambian bats collated, and data quality of occurrence records of nearly 600 bat specimens in Livingstone Museum improved.