The main goal of the workshop is to provide a forum for collaborative exchange between key US and foreign scientists actively engaged in research on the evolution of biological diversity in the equatorial rainforests of Central Africa. The proposed workshop will take place in Gabon in 2011 and will be jointly organized by the PI and US scientists (Dr. Gonder, State University of New York-Albany, NY; Dr. Lahm, Ecology and Environment Inc., DC) in cooperation with foreign collaborators (Dr. Mickala, Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku, Gabon; Dr. Jeffery, Station d'Etudes sur les Gorilles et Chimpanzés, Gabon; Dr. Abernethy, University of Stirling, UK and Prof. Bruford, Cardiff University, UK).

Given the biological significance of the Congo basin and the conservation challenges this region faces, this workshop will not only strive to present a coherent synthesis of our current understanding of the evolution of biological diversity in the region but also provide recommendations for future evolutionary research and its application to conservation. The 35+ participants selected by the steering committee comprise a broad array of evolutionary biologists, natural resource specialists and university educators. Their collective expertise and current research activities span most major taxonomic groups and countries in the region. The specific aims are as follows:

(i) assess our current knowledge of evolutionary patterns and processes underlying the distribution of biological diversity in the Central African equatorial rainforest (ii) establish common research priorities and identify important gaps in our current knowledge base (iii) identify novel avenues for cross-disciplinary research, data sharing and ways of applying genetic approaches to conservation management and policy (iv) explore innovative ways of combining tropical evolutionary research with student education (v) explore the potential for future collaborative granting opportunities between US, European and African scientists.

Intellectual merit: The advent of novel PCR based technologies, non-invasive sampling methodologies, faster computers and a vast proliferation of freeware promises to revolutionize our understanding of the evolution of central African biological diversity. Despite these conceptual and technological advances, most evolutionary research in Central Africa has been limited to single species studies from a limited set of plant and animal taxa. Moreover, many of the most exciting advances in molecular ecology and multi-disciplinary evolutionary studies (e.g. landscape genetic analyses, barcoding initiatives etc.) have yet to be applied across the region. The present workshop therefore seeks to address this need by bringing together US and foreign scientists to establish a set of common research objectives for future research and explore opportunities for collaborative exchange and education. By bringing academics, resource managers, conservation practitioners and educators together, the workshop will also strive to identify ways that genetic data can make a concrete contribution to regional conservation efforts.

Broader impacts: (1) Enhance collaboration between U.S. and foreign scientists engaged in evolutionary biology and conservation research in Central Africa; (2) Identify opportunities for overseas training and research for U.S. investigators and students; (3) Lay the groundwork for large multi-investigator grant applications such as the NSF PIRE award program; (4) Establish a set of recommendations on future avenues for research and ways of using genetic data to inform conservation management and policy; (5) Publish a synthesis of workshop discussion and collate educational materials for distribution to workshop participants.

This award is being funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering's Africa, Near East, and South Asia Program.

Project Report

A five-day international workshop was held at the Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku in Franceville, Gabon. The main aims of this workshop were to: (1) establish research priorities in evolutionary and conservation research, and (2) promote international collaboration between African, US and European scientists and conservation professionals. Over 60 participants attended the workshop from the United States, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Japan. The workshop was divided into five major sections, each devoted to different themes in evolutionary biology and conservation, namely: (1) Integrative approaches to monitoring and mapping biological diversity; (2) Studies to inform ecology and conservation management; (3) Comparative phylogeography and landscape studies; (4) Combining evolutionary research with education; (5) Translating evolutionary research into conservation. Each section was composed of three working groups which met concurrently to discuss research priorities and their relevance to conservation, provide recommendations for activities in the short and long-term, and outline the facilities and collaborative projects needed to meet these priorities. The workshop resulted in ten major recommendations for future research, education and capacity building activities in the region which were summarized in a multiple-author brevia publication . The workshop also established new networks of researchers and led to the development of several research and education proposals between meeting participants. Finally, a conference website was produced that lists details about conference participants, the agenda for the meeting, published recommendations, and final synthesis documents from each section.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
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Carleen Maitland
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University of New Orleans
New Orleans
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