European and African scientists are embarking on two major expeditions to take stock of the biodiversity in little known areas of Mozambique and Madagascar. The projects focus on areas considered to be "biodiversity hotspots" that are also threatened by development.
The expeditions are being launched by the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Pro-Natura International, along with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The first team is setting out in November, to conduct an inventory of fauna and flora in little-known areas of Mozambique.
Worldwide, scientists have only identified a small fraction of the millions of species they estimate are living on our planet. Taking these kinds of inventories is critical, they say, because habitats are disappearing.
A botanist at London's Royal Botanic Gardens, Jonathan Timberlake, is a member of the research team going to Mozambique to focus on little-known coastal forest areas.
"These coastal forests have been looked at in quite a lot of detail, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania in recent years and they show very high levels of diversity and also high levels of endemism - that is species that are only found in very restricted areas," said Jonathan Timberlake. "And it has always been assumed these forests continue into Mozambique, but nobody has ever really looked at it."
The project is being conducted in close collaboration with Mozambican research institutes. Timberlake says taking stock of the country's biodiversity is critical because Mozambique is developing rapidly. Agriculture, timber extraction, oil and gas exploration all pose threats to wildlife.
"If we are aware of what [wildlife] is there and which particular sites are most important, maybe the Mozambican government, which has shown interest in this, can help conserve these areas and allow development to go on in adjacent areas, but allow some of the most special sites, the ones which are particularly rich or have particular species, which do not occur outside Mozambique or in just limited areas across the border," he said. "They can help get these areas conserved. And hopefully we are all going to benefit from that."
Next year, scientists will also take stock of the marine biodiversity in previously unexplored areas of Madagascar. The two projects are part of a massive, 10-year enterprise dubbed "Our Planet Reviewed." The goal is to conduct biodiversity inventories of little known areas around the world that are considered priorities in nature conservation.