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By Barbara Curtis, Project Manager, Tree Atlas Project, National Botanic Research Institute
The Namibian Tree Atlas Project is a public participation project that has been running for three years. Participants, referred to as atlassers, send information on woody plants, specifically trees and shrubs that are normally over one metre tall, to the compilers of the atlas at the National Botanic Research Institute. While the main focus of the project is to collect data on distribution and abundance, as much additional information as possible is being collected in the process. A secondary aim is to stimulate interest and public awareness of woody plants by involving all interested people, and learning more about woody plants while teaching other people about them too.
To date there are 563 registered atlassers, of which 32% have contributed to the project. Other people have contributed indirectly and much interest has been shown overall. The most active atlas year was the second summer. In the first year people were only beginning to hear about the project and feel their way into it. Fewer people worked harder in the third year.
Regular newsletters and workshops have kept participants up-to-date with what is going on in the project, and helped them to identify different trees. A number of atlassers have said how much they have enjoyed looking at trees, how much their eyes have been opened and how much they are learning.
A total of 3 550 sheets with 54 450 observations or records has been entered onto an MS Access database. An atlas sheet holds records of species found within one-quarter degree square within one calendar month. These records come from 82% of the country. In total there are 1 258 quarter degree squares that fall totally or partially within the borders of Namibia. However, only 1 095 need be regarded as places to be atlassed, since the rest are more outside the country than within, or in desert areas devoid of large woody vegetation. Only 24% of the country has been well atlassed, while 18% has been adequately covered.
Observations have been made on 81% of the taxa (species and subspecies) included in the project species list, but 50% of the taxa require more attention. Three new species have been added to the list and there are a number of range extensions.
Acacia erioloba, the camel thorn, was the most often recorded and most widespread species. An interesting observation was made last summer, when it rained so well. The camel thorn normally starts flowering in August, peaking in September and October and tailing off in December. Last summer there was a second small flowering peak in April. This was true of a number of other species as well. Boscia albitrunca, the shepherd’s tree or witgat, was recognised by the greatest number of atlassers. Some species, such as Phaeoptilum spinosum, brosdoring, were under-recorded, due to their marked similarity to Lycium species when not in flower or carrying fruit.
The project, which is funded by the German Government via the National Biodiversity Programme, will run for another two years. This coming summer we plan to concentrate on specific areas and species, and encourage atlassers to look at aspects such as abundance and habitat.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.