Thursday, 14 June 2012

East African Butterfly families and corrupt, singing caterpillars

Citrus Swallowtail, Papilio demodocus, is very common in Tanzania
We're rarely short of butterflies in Tanzania, but they're a sadly overlooked group. Except, perhaps, when they're swarming by the million as earlier this year most people will, at best, only notice a few in passing. For a hugely diverse group (there are over 18,000 described species), they fall into a relatively small number of readily recognisable families. Unfortunately, all the nice identification books are out of print (and wickedly expensive to buy on ebay!) for East Africa, but there are some resources out there that will help once you've figured out the families. The relationships between the families have recently been the subject of some serious work. It turns out that the family relationship were rather difficult to pin down because they all evolved relatively quickly in the Cretaceous (yes, dinosaur time, 100 - 75 Million Year Ago). But our best guess at the moment sorts them into 4 main groups split into a total of 26ish main family groups, only a few of which are at all diverse. So it's not too hard to get to grips with the main families, and the main change to the traditional taxonomy, if you've been into that, is that the big group Papilionoidea is actually two, rather distantly related groups. I'm going to describe some of the common families here (together with some of my favourite stories about them - yes, including corrupt, singing caterpillars) and hopefully will be able to show how the various families fit together at the end. So, here goes...

Monday, 4 June 2012

More on management of protected areas: the human dimensions.

Public relations are a huge part of conservation work
In the previous post I described two of the ten lessons that we, a bunch of conservation managers and researchers from eastern and southern Africa identified at a workshop in Serengeti. I started with the big lessons on making sure you start with boundaries that make ecological sense - and what can happen particularly to migrations if that's not done. There's more to learn on that score too, but I'll skip to one of the most important lessons we identified, that will come as no surprise to anyone working in the field: don't neglect public relations!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

On managing protected areas...

Spot the scientists! Prizes for anyone who can name at least 4...
In  a very rare burst of finishing things of, I've managed to submit two papers this week (wow!). One is on climate impacts and I'll blog about it in time, the other is something I've been working on for a some time that reports the deliberations from a workshop that I was invited to 18 months ago now, at Sasakwa Lodge in the Grumeti Game Reserve. This was a fascinating experience, and not only because it's the only way the likes of me will ever get to stay in Paul Tudor Jones' house and be looked after like a real guest! We brought together several senior researchers and conservation practitioners from Tanzania and Southern Africa, to see what would happen. And what did happen (as well as the lodge running out of whisky), was an attempt to identify the ten most important lessons for conservation that could be learnt from the mistakes of southern Africa. As they say, it's a wise man who learns from his mistakes, but it's an even wiser one who learns from the mistakes of others! So, given that the population pressures in east Africa are now similar to those experienced in southern Africa when lots of conservation interventions started to happen down there, we thought it would be a good time to see what we could learn.