Zimbabwe is home to more than 80 rodent and bat species, several of which are either threatened or endemic to certain areas. Both of these mammalian orders are known or suspected to be host reservoirs for viral zoonotic diseases that could pose considerable threats to human populations. However, the composition, occurrence, and distribution of bats and rodents in Zimbabwe is poorly understood.
The Mammalogy wet collection at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe comprises some 6,000 specimens of rodents and bats preserved in alcohol. These records remain largely inaccessible, however, in specimen labels that themselves have never been analyzed or digitized. Meanwhile, the handling of specimens to access information from the labels has put them at risk.
To improve the understanding of distributions of bat and rodent species found in Zimbabwe, the Mammalogy staff will mobilize more than 6,000 records from specimens from this collection. Such knowledge can help identify areas where threatened species occur, allowing more effective channeling of resources toward their protection. The historic perspective offered by the presence or absence of specimen records across their range can also aid local and international researchers and policy makers who wish to assess current and future risk of vector-based diseases on Zimbabwe's human communities.
To date, the project has digitized 4000 specimins held in the wet collection of the museum including 62 bat species from 30 genera and 10 different families updating the checklist which was previously published in January 2018. Using Darwin Core standards, data has been prepared and cleaned through Excel and Open Refine. So far, specimen records have been geo-referenced to country level and checks have been made for taxonomic errors.
A three-day data digitization workshop was held in January 2018, offering 25 museum staff, 2 officials from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and 20 undergratuate students of NUST training on tools and techniques beneficial to data digitization.
The project will make available the 4000 records through the GBIF IPT and work will continue to generate maps that can be uploaded to the Museum's website and, likewise, through the IPT.
The project has updated and digitized 6188 specimens in total in the wet collection. The data of 78 bat species (33 genus' and 9 families), 3 shrew species (2 genus' and 2 families), 1 hare species, and 14 rodents (14 genus' and 4 families) are georeferenced at country level and checked for taxonomic errors. Data has been published on GBIFs wesite as well as the projects own database system SPECIFY 6. The project has created maps using QGIS and has also been uploaded to the Natural History Museum website.
Going forward the project aims to produce a Bat Atlas with detailed maps for each species. This will particularly help in tracking species distribution and diversity for each area. New sites are particularly important in tracking the bat species diversity.
This programme is funded by the European Union.